Sunday, March 19, 2006

On "youths" and getting a bad press

Recently I heard from an old student of mine who passed on a newspaper article that reminded her of a "framing the news" assignment she'd completed in my Mass Media & Society class. The article, which apppeared in the San Bernardino (Calif.) Sun earlier this month, concerned a "youth riot" that supposedly broke out after a punk rock concert in that city (Article is available online here). My old student had been at the Woodstock '99 festival (which had also been slammed by the news media for turning to violence, sexual assault, and looting--stories that were almost certainly overhyped). So this event had caught her eye. She told me that, after dissecting the piece, she was "really appalled at how blatantly biased this piece actually is." She was concerned at how the article, in her eyes, failed "to answer or at least address all the readers' questions," and she was still left wondering, for example, why cops tear-gassed a crowded hall with 4,000 kids in response to a stabbing? And why weren't venue security staff able to handle the incident? She signed off: "This article has really come to embody all that I loathe about the media. I just thought I'd pass it along! :)"

Well, looking over the article and the way it presents the events, I think she probably has a point (of course I wasn't there to see the event first-hand, so I'm going on past experience with these sorts of things). The story is certainly framed in such a way as to downplay the opinions and concerns of concertgoers, and to play up the police's and local business community's version of reality. One thing to always note in articles such as these is who's being quoted in the piece--and who gets quoted first. Police spokesmen are always readily available to the press to "spin" the local PD's preferred reading of events. And local business owners (usually conservative by nature) are often able and willing to come forward and support that version--since the police have framed themselves (and the media accept and legitimate the frame) as protectors of law and order (and property) against the perceived anarchic hordes. This is a frame built up over generations of media coverage of "rowdy" youth culture, and an easy pigeonhole to place young people into.

What you don't see anywhere is a spokeperson for the concertgoers, the "youth." This group's members aren't organized, have no spokesperson available to take press calls and speak on their behalf (and even if they did there's a good chance that the media would ignore them or downplay their opinion are less legitimate). This group (if you can even call it a "group") is therefore safely marginalized as a source of opinion, and can safely be placed in whatever frame has been set for them by these other, more organized parties. What's left is a nice simple narrative of "riot," good cops and citizens versus bad punks, and the press happily weaves a tale of disorder and the necessary restoration of order. It's been told a thousand times. It's a news perspective that flows primarily (though not exclusively) from one of Herbert Gans' most potent "enduring values": the need for the restoration and maintenance of order in society--especially, in this case, social and moral order. That's usually how it works. If you were to get caught up on the wrong side of this narrative or these news values, it could be very scary.

1 Comments:

Blogger Shaun Walker said...

I think this sort of media reaction is all too common almost to the point of redundancy. I am so tired of reading and hearing about biased opinions of the Police and/or the media regarding pretty much everything. This is an issue that has driven me crazy esepcially lately with all of the hype about the war in Iraq. In talking to Marine's about there experiences over there, it is clear that they differ HUGELY from how the media portrays it. For example, we never hear about the Marine's building schools and hospitals, or how thankful most of the Iraqi people are towards US Troops. Instead it's all negative. I have lately been so upset by this that I have simply stopped reading the newspaper and watching the news. I only care to tune into the econonomy and what businesses are doing. It's absurd!

3/27/2006 12:55 PM  

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