by Christie Chisholm, Weekly Alibi, May 4, 2006
I have a penchant for late-night movies—always rentals. I hop up to the video store around 11 p.m., pick out a few select DVDs, a couple packs of popcorn, maybe some Junior Mints (the ultimate movie food), and stay up either until I wear out or the sun comes up. I usually crash somewhere around film No. 2.
This last Friday, I decided to indulge in my innocent yet slightly irresponsible pleasure. I popped a bag of kettle corn, shuffled it into a large bowl and giddily settled down onto my couch for an early morning viewing of Good Night and Good Luck.
As those who have seen it are aware, it’s an all-around fabulous film. More like a documentary than a major Hollywood blockbuster, the movie replays the events of 1954, when famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow used the power of television to stand up to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The movie is also a compelling commentary on the downfall of television.
As Murrow once said with regard to the talking picture box, “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.”
And so it is true of all media, in all its various forms. It is true of this newspaper, the local radio station, the New York Times. And so it is also true that we, the public, the reporters, the media owners, must decide which of the two extremes we want to serve.
Unfortunately, as we are all too aware, modern media has for the most part taken the low road. We see the symptoms of it here in Albuquerque as much as anywhere. And, recently, it has really begun to irk me. I am reminded of it every time I turn on the nightly news, no matter the station. I am also reminded of it nearly every morning, when I unroll that day’s copy of the Albuquerque Journal. What is the front-page news, almost invariably? Usually some story about murder or violence, or a lovely, IQ-dropping “human interest” piece—a term our local daily has massacred and mistranslated into stories on how kids and dogs dislike the taste of medicine (April 8), rather than focusing on a woman’s journey through immigration or earning the minimum wage.
Indeed, last month’s Journal offered a slew of insulting “human interest” stories, from front-page headlines on killer bees (April 18) to features on polar bears (April 12) to heartening tales on women who like to dress up their dogs (April 14). Such pieces do little to inform—although they may draw praise from less ambitious readers.
What’s the solution to such media embarrassments? Reporters certainly don’t want to write such tripe; most owners likely don’t care as long as it sells. We’ve been tossing dialogue back and forth on these issues for decades—and the problem only worsens.
And so what can be and always will be the only answer? It comes down to what you, dear readers, demand.