osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

An interesting conversation

Cultural conditioning and the power of familiarity are among the most powerful forces that shape us. The moreso because we never notice them. And we can therefore, quite accidentally, really piss people off. I had an interesting encounter yesterday with a reporter that illustrates this and why we need to gaurd against it.

So yesterday I was speaking to a reporter doing a story of the impact of media ownership on minority ownership and minority-oriented programming. This is an issue that the 3rd Cir. required the FCC to look at when it remanded the matter back to the FCC in 2004. Kevin Martin, recognizing this as a no-win situation for a Republican ideologically opposed to any race-conscious government remedies, has done his best to ignore the issue. I wrote some comments on the relevant constitutional standard in the first round of comments.

But to get back to the point, Reporter and I had a good preliminary chat on what is likely to be an in depth story. As is often the case, I asked who else Reporter was talking to with an eye toward making recommendations if needed.

Reporter rattled off a list of familiar qualified names from the public interest community.

"Those people are all good," I said. "But with one exception, they are all white, male washington -based folks. I think you would benefit to talking to some of the minority activists in the field who are seeing the impacts of consolidation on a daily basis." Besides, I knew that nothing would more piss off my colleagues in the field than seeing a bunch of inside-the-beltway white guys "speaking for them" on this issue.

Reporter agreed at once, and gratefully accepted all my suggestions and contact info. It had simply never occured to Reporter to call folks Reporter did not know. Because Reporter is a Washington beat reporter, who has a rolledex of "public interest experts" to call when doing a story on the subject.

Reporter is, in my experience, a very good and dilligent Reporter. Reporter just got blindsided by the forces of cultural conditioning and only talking to the people you know. Reporter grasped at once that it would be a much better story to talk to the activists in the field who are part of the relevant communities of interest.

None of that, of course, would have prevented folks in the field who saw the article from feeling that, once again, they had been ignored and silenced by the institutions and their well-meaning but clueless liberal allies. And, as a matter of substance, they would have been correct. And they would have ended up feeling resentful over an article supposedly about "their issue."

This isn't a race thing. Talk to folks outside DC and you'll find a bunch in any social movement that can give you an earful about how the "Washington people" don't think anything outside DC matters. Fish aren't aware of water, and we are hardly aware of our own tendencies to think along accustomed patterns and talk only to the people we know. It's reason number X+1 that diversity (as measured by multiple indicies, not merely race or gender) matters. Pull in new perspectives and you don't just get an additive effect, you get a multiplier.

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