I was wondering why bad examples propagate so quickly throughout the media, while good examples don’t.
Wealthy advice for the poor
A ‘news’ story that was published and republished by over 450 media websites in Romania in September 2017 under the appearance of ‘economy news’ quoted Gina Rinehart, one of the richest women in the world, who encouraged poor people ‘to work harder and cut down their drinking, smoking and socialising.’
Old news is good news
A quick check reveals that the story is actually five years old, as it was reported in The Telegraph in 2012. But this is not really a problem in this case, because the story hasn’t been translated into Romanian before. Gina Rinehart’s words provide the ‘powerful story‘ that many media producers, these crusaders of Truth, rush to promote and talk about. 450 of them did rush, indeed. It is true that more trustworthy Romanian media, such as Mediafax, Agerpres, or Adevarul, did not bite into it.
However, such examples are business as usual in television and the online media. But why do such things happen anyway?
To a large extent, media professionals — particularly chief editors and producers, who are largely responsible for the content guidelines of their publications — have created their own bubble of ‘good practices‘ (so good they are, indeed!), a bubble that is difficult to escape from, because, just like economic bubbles, provides a comfortable inertia to the ones who propagate it and make their living out of it.
Media, mimesis, and the global monastery
These media bubbles get inflated through mimesis journalism, which is exactly the opposite of the classical values of journalism. Mimesis is the logic that drives most news-based TV channels and much of the online media, which find themselves in a permanent ‘breaking news’ attitude. This is mostly the case of tabloid publications, but there is a tendency towards tabloidisaion in quality media, too, which means that the exception threatens to replace the norm in journalism practices.
The problem of this media bubble and its underlying mimetic mechanism should not come to us as a surprise, because the root of the problem finds itself in the very essence of modernity.
In line with his conception of modernity as a model of society stuck in ‘permanent liminality,’ the sociologist Arpad Szakolczai argued that the contemporary world can be conceived in terms of a ‘global monastery.’
Undoubtedly, one of the powerful engines that set the mechanism of the global monastery in motion must be the media, and at the heart of important editorial decisions lies the mimesis instinct of producers and editors. Although they are not connected with each other through direct communication, as they belong to separate ‘worlgroups,’ chief editors and producers connect with each other by constantly checking their competition’s content (step into any news-based TV channel newsroom, and you’ll see many TV screens set on their competition stations), which they must be permanently aware of.
There was a woman known as Mother Theresa who lived in the last century. She has founded a missionary order for the support of the poorest of the poor in India, and her mission still goes on through the work of many volunteers and sponsors.
Now, imagine a network of missionaries walking down the streets of big cities in the West seeking the poorest of the poor and whispering in their ears the good news of the modern monastic order: ‘Go and work harder, cut down on drinking, stop socialising!’
This is how sad modern media has become, indeed.
A large area of today’s media is dominated by irresponsible decision-makers who form a ‘disconnected network’ that can be described metaphorically as an invisible chivalric/monastic order that promotes a gospel where the values of truth and love have been replaced by ‘sounds cool’ and ‘looks sexy’.
The world is a global mediatic monastery; the media strutures its daily rituals and provides it with regular intakes of contemplation on odd, macabre, luring, or sinister stories.