26/10/2012 | Pop culture has killed print journalism. Clark Kent (CK), a.k.a. Superman, quit his job as a reporter at the Daily Planet. It is not that the good Kent decided to trade in his poorly paid position to devote himself to saving the world full-time, but he was fed up with the state of corporate journalism instead.
“I believed that journalism was an ideal — I was taught to believe you could use words to change the course of rivers,” Kent yells at Morgan Edge, the owner of Galaxy Broadcasting, the media empire that owns the Daily Planet, in issue number 13 which hit the stores on Wednesday.
“But facts have been replaced by opinion; information has been replaced by entertainment.”
Kent/Superman knows what he is talking about. He stands at both sides of the news counter. As a reporter, Kent is assigned to cover the “Superman beat” and his bosses are angry because he has not filed a story about the hero for a week. Outside the newsroom, Superman complains about media-driven public opinion polarization about him.
“Half the world thinks I’m their saviour. The other half thinks I’m some sort of advance guard for an alien invasion,” he says. “And nothing I ever do seems to change these two opposing theories. Everything I do is open to misinterpretation.”
Does President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CK) read Superman? The same day Kent was told by his editor that print was “a dying medium,” the President told a small group of journalists from the province of Córdoba that the 21st Century was bringing “a new form of doing journalism.”
“We are entering a new era (in journalism) because people will stop reading newspapers as they did in the 20th century,” said the President. She also, like Kent, slammed media corporations like the one which so much angered the superhero. “There are two types of journalism. There are the people like you,” she told the group of small-town reporters, “who have a vocation and report what you see. And then there’s corporate journalism, which has a purely economic goal.” Superman, remember, grew up in SmallVille.
Fernández de Kirchner’s government is embarked on a crusade against the country’s largest media outlet, Grupo Clarín, which her administration likes to describe as the head and coordinator of the country’s political opposition. Government supporters would love to read the latest Superman issue as a show that journalists are the victims of large evil corporations flouting the truth. Superman, in that interpretation, would be the closest the US comic world can manufacture to what became known here as a “militant” journalist.
One of the Superman scriptwriters said the superhero is unlikely to join any other legacy publication and will instead take to the Internet and to the airwaves to “start speaking an unvarnished truth.” He is likely to start the next Huffington Post or Drudge Report, added writer Scott Lobdell, instead of working on pay-cheque assignments. @Superman has not posted any tweets yet.
Clark Kent’s denial of the media organization which employed him for decades is the second major introspection about journalism US popular culture has produced this year. During the first season of The Newsroom, a television drama which made its debut on HBO this year, a cable news anchor called Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) makes a soliloquy at the start of an evening newscast apologizing to the US public for having failed to deliver accurate information.
“Tonight I am beginning this newscast by apologizing to the American people for our failure,” McAvoy says on the air. “The failure of this programme during the time I’ve been in charge of it to successfully inform and educate the American electorate. The reason we failed isn’t a mystery. We took a dive for the ratings. I am quitting the circus: I am switching teams. From this moment on, we’ll be deciding what goes on our air and how we present it to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate.”
McAvoy ends his diatribe asking: “Who are we to make these decisions? We are the media elite.”
What you get in your papers and news broadcasts every morning is sometimes even stranger than television drama. The simplest of news becomes inaccessible, trapped in an informational trench war similar to the one Superman accused of bias. This is true elsewhere but most especially in media-divided Argentina.
This week, just to name one of the latest everyday examples, the Fernández de Kirchner administration underwent an annual cross-examination at the UN Human Rights Council. The oppositionist papers reported the government was criticized for its alleged violations of press freedom. The government and pro-government press, in turn, said the country was praised for the “concrete results” of its human rights policies. There was next to no point of contact between the stories. The rival camps are creating what the pro-government sociologist Artemio López calls “redundant audiences.” Everything ends up being open to misinterpretation. And nothing, to paraphrase the man from Krypton, seems to change these opposing views.
Marcelo J. García (@mjotagarcia) is a former Herald writer and coordinates the Communications Department at the Society for International Development (www.sidbaires.org.ar)