Bob Jensen, professor of journalism in the College of Communication, talks to KUT‘s Ben Philpott about how mainstream media has failed in its coverage of the Haiti earthquake.
Jensen: Television tends to play up the dramatic and the personal and in the hypercompetitive media environment today, with not only network television but cable and online, I think we are seeing that ramped up even more. What the public misses in this is depth, context, a deeper understanding of what’s going on in favor of the dramatic pictures and the personal — the anchor that’s on the scene. These are not tendencies in American journalism that help citizens understand the complexity of these events –- the underlying politics of the events –- but they are trends in journalism that can aid in ratings, at least in the short term, and I think it is very unfortunate.
Philpott: You see a lot of journalists over the last few years that have started doing things like keeping a blog or having a Twitter feed to send out information about what they’re doing on whatever story they are working on. Are they just being used the wrong way in this instance, or is there a right way to use them in this instance?
Jensen: Well, as with most technology, it can be applied for good or bad ends. Unfortunately, a lot of the social media, especially Twitter and some of the online social media, are not really adding to the depth of quality of the coverage. Again most of this is ratings-driven. This is a function of an overwhelmingly private, for-profit media system that is in a structural readjustment in which everyone is concerned about profits.
Philpott: And do you feel like as the coverage has become more personal or more dramatic, is there something within the coverage of Haiti that is being missed?
Jensen: We hear constantly the phrase that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. What journalists are not investigating is why is Haiti the poorest country? Well, the fact is the United States has been on the wrong side of history in Haiti for the better part of a century, starting with U.S. military occupation in the early 20th century, U.S. support for some of the most brutal dictators in the hemisphere in the post-WWII era, and in the first Bush and second Bush administrations, out-and-out U.S. support for coups against the democratically elected president — a policy that was continued under Clinton. Where is that story? Where is the story of how Haiti got to be Haiti and why the devastation of this earthquake is magnified so much?