Sound Bites Trump Substance: Why Occupy Wall Street Media Coverage Is Superficial
By Donald Mazzella, Editorial Director, Information Strategies, Inc.
The essence of news is conflict.
Protests are essentially acts of conflict and they have been part of our national heritage. The nation’s press has covered protests from the first days of the republic. But unfortunately, as the national press functions today, it covers events like Occupy Wall Street in a superficial manner without getting to the heart of the conflict. We live in a sound bite world, which rarely permits deeper coverage and the laying out of conflicting rights.
For the protestors in Zuccotti Park, the goal is to generate publicity. And the media is giving them what they want. The national media fosters their unspecified goals by keeping them in the news through short sound bites. According to the mainstream press I read, they are legitimate protestors with valid beefs.
But is the media giving its audience (the rest of us) balanced reportage? The answer is no. Let us examine the evidence:
The Clash of Fundamental Rights
For instance, these protestors have brought into stark focus the clash of fundamental rights. The media seems to condone the idea free speech trumps private property rights. After all, what reporter hasn’t pushed into private property to get a story or picture?
The protestors chose Zuccotti Park because it was private, and the protest, despite its unfocused goals, is an orchestrated event. So, these protestors get publicity and the front page of newspapers and nightly coverage—but little is said about the commandeering of private property open to the public. The general public has a right to use that park just as much as the protestors. Yet these protesters have stood off the police and the property’s owners and prevented ordinary people its use the park …
Again, the media has not discussed nor highlighted the rights of property owners in this context.
The Lack of Context and Focus
What the media has also not done is brought the protest into perspective. Here you have a bunch of people protesting, but with no clear focus. If the NY Post is to be believed, they are also living high off the hog. They’re angry. But so are a lot of people. In today’s world, everyone is angry at someone.
Why are they on Wall Street, rather than in Washington—where many of the abuses were permitted to continue long after warnings were sounded? Thoughtful pundits worried about the proliferation of student loans, easy mortgages and Wall Street excesses … but our politicians continued to ladle out the monies. Unfortunately, the national media didn’t trumpet these warnings.
The Emphasis on Entitlement over Education
Right now, millions of Americans are underwater in their home mortgages, facing eviction and meeting stiff legal pressure from banks and other institutions that profited from this debacle. These protestors want their college loans forgiven. Yet they and the national press do not talk about our educational institutions that have failed to prepare them for today’s business world.
Corporations spend billions retraining new hires that can’t read, make change or even provide good customer service in an economy that is essentially one big service world. Fast food chains had to install cash registers that tell workers how much change to give because most lacked basic skills. Ironically, these workers often give the wrong change anyway. The mainstream media has not highlighted this serious flaw in our educational system—but instead blames business managers for not doing enough for employees.
To read the mainstream press, one would believe that failing schools could only be helped with more monies thrown at them, rather than via fundamental reform. There is often no penalty for failure in schools and graduates come out with a sense of entitlement. These protesters (in their sound bites) demand some entitlements and the national press trumpets them.
To ask that student loans be forgiven is not the answer. Perhaps these protestors should sue the schools and colleges they attended if their education does not give them access to jobs at the level they expect.
Missing in Action: The 5Ws
The mainstream press seems to think the Wall Street protestors are more legitimate than the Tea Party. Perhaps the better job is to find out who they are? What they specifically they want? Why have they gathered with no consistent messaging? Where do they go from here?
As a veteran reporter who covered the early days of the civil rights movement, there are clear differences and stark contrasts.
I somehow get the feeling these protestors are nostalgic for those times when great things were done to foster civil rights for all Americans.
Americans can achieve great things when people coalesce around ideas and the leaders who express them in words they understand.
The role of national media is to trumpet these words and bring them to the attention of a majority of Americans. Unfortunately, today we have no clear villains in which to focus our anger. In today’s world, there is no Bull Connors to paint as a villain to focus rage and action. The Birmingham police chief was an ideal villain. When Bull Connors acted against civil rights marchers, national media ran two or three minutes of the action, if not more.
Sound Bites and Slogans over Substance
Today we get 20 seconds on the evening news. Today’s villains wear suits and prowl the halls of Congress, the Executive Branch, and Wall Street.
They are not easy to demonize because they are not visible. We see them only in today’s very controlled sound bites replaced tomorrow by other sound bites.
The national media today is a visual world with much color and little substance. Today, we have sound bites but no substance … and protest movements without specific aims.
The national media must look at issues more thoroughly, in greater depth, and with multiple points of view and let a better-informed public choose.
Right now, the media repeats shouted slogans and laments fragmented leadership without providing the on-air time or deep written coverage to foster a unified goal. It is up to the national media to cut through the flaming oratory and drill down in more depth. Sound bites won’t cut it.
Donald P. Mazzella is a veteran journalist and editor who has held senior level editorial positions at McGraw Hill, Thomson and other news organizations. He is currently Editorial Director of Information Strategies, Inc. He publishes online newsletters in the small business, HR, healthcare sectors. He holds MBA, MA, BA degrees from NYU.
Published: October 23, 2011 By: