May 27, 2006

Murrow and the Media

I went to Doc last night and saw Good Night and Good Luck. It's a great movie. I know I'm late to the party on this one, but such is the life of a college kid who relies on a student film society as his only access to cinema. I liked the black and white, I liked the understatement, and I loved David Straitharn. The movie through Murrow confirmed something I've thought for a long time, namely, that there is inherent tension in the media's role in American society because it is a profit-seeking institution that provides a public service. The media has to turn a profit (whether by selling papers or selling ads) and at the same time provide the public with vital information and analysis. Unfortunately, selling papers and educating the public often conflict. Obviously, there is an inherent paternalism in my (and Murrow's) claim. According to this argument, the public, through the marketplace, is bad at demanding quality news information. I think there is some truth to that. But what is more important is to remind ourselves that the media is not a lens through which we see the world, but rather, a periscope. We're generally submerged and the media is an instrument that allows us to come to the surface every so often and survey the vast ocean of information around us.