Global media and the local listener

We are all part of a global community!

You hear that all the time now. Well, the fact is, a global community might as well be *no* community. What we call the global community is really just a term for the gray uniformity of the globalized media. When the same story runs in Topeka and Miami, in Bangor and Burbank and Bangkok, it must speak to the common denominator of all those audiences. It cannot express a human perspective, being forced instead to synthesize its human elements into a sort of bland universalism, and it has no capability to provide much in the way of “local color.”

But the greatest problem of the globalized media is trust. As media outlets become more far-flung, as stories have to be turned around in shorter and shorter periods to meet the demand of an ever-more-ravenous 24-hour audience, a certain expediency must be adopted regarding traditionally important principles like accountability. If editors no longer have time to check apostrophes, who, then, is checking facts? In days past, different publishing or broadcast organizations could rely on their reputations and those of their personnel to reassure the readers of the integrity of their copy. But institutional integrity has proved short-lived: Now a segment on a cable news network is increasingly indistinguishable from the ads that paid for it, and the onscreen anchors who deliver it are indistinguishable from actors.

How is the discriminating reader to deal with such an affront? As the mainstream media are increasingly defined by their dual nature as global and commercial enterprises, broadcast media that are both locally produced and noncommercial in character are becoming increasingly important anchors for citizens searching for transparency and probity. Local print media (like The Tartan) find that being grounded in a community is as much an asset to their readers as USA Today’s breadth of distribution is to its shareholders. Similarly, local broadcast media (like Carnegie Mellon’s own radio station, WRCT) offer a dual benefit: They provide a candid, locally-grounded perspective to their listeners, and also act as the voice of their community.

As the globalized media fill more and more of the airwaves with emptiness, more of the audience is changing the channel. We may be part of a global village, but it turns out the locals have a few things to say.