Archive | December, 2010

Media: Find a new dead horse

18 Dec

If you hang out long enough with lefties, eventually someone will repeat an old saw as if it were a new blade: The Evils of Media Consolidation. This memetic concept has spawned a whole cottage industry of conspiracy theorist-journalists, infographics and vitriolic discussions, both off and online.

Self-styled investigative journalists write their pieces about media consolidation as if they were the first to discover – horror of horrors – that an entire industry is run by only a handful of corporate giants. They are, of course, telling us this tale for the VERY FIRST TIME, and we should all be shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you! not to mention appalled, that we’re being spoon-fed drivel that turns our minds into oatmeal by Evil Men in Grey Flannel Suits. They lurk in the shadows, forcing Sarah Palin news upon the unsuspecting populace, and using man-bites-dog-stories to cover up What’s Really Happening.

If only media and news were the ONLY industries run this way. You better believe that every industry that reaches any point of maturation will consolidate. Central management allows for reduced operating costs – and it’s join or die for most companies, media or not.

Let’s make a cool infographic like this that shows how
class mobility is a lie your parents told you.

So OK. We get it. The media is owned by a very small number of corporations, and the variation we think we’re getting with six gazilion channels and 7 trillion newspapers and 800 bajillion news blogs isn’t actually that varied. But it’s time to stop blaming corporate consolidation (at least, stop blaming it solely) for the  monochromatic messages. Culture itself, not just corporate ownership, plays a pretty big part in media influence.

Think about it: We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of information workers, here – all with their own backgrounds and worldviews – work for tiny tiny subsidiaries and focus on itsy bitsy niche topic areas and interest groups. Not every single reporter is hell-bent on serving his or her corporate overlords, peddling the Faux News message and pulling the wool over the eyes of Joe America. At least not any more than your average every day Joe is hell-bent on achieving those same goals by parroting Faux News talking points, or mindlessly perpetuating the patriarchy.

Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model says that the internalization of the biases and values of corporate owners of the media leads to self-censorship by journalists, but that’s not the whole truth. It’s not just reporters and editors submitting to the wills of their corporate overlords – it’s all of us. We have all, to some degree, internalized the values of corporate owners – whether we work for the media or not. Journalists fall prey to systemic and cognitive biases no more and no less than your average accountant, pro athlete or sous chef.

Yes, corporate consolidation is a problem (as it is in many other industries). But so is our culture – the one that’s built several gajilion support structures to ensure the propagation of a ruling class and dominant culture. Media is just one column supporting a monolithic superstructure that includes patriarchy, capitalism, nuclear families, the legal system, class hierarchies, office jobs and deep-fried Oreos.

Money should be transparent, not invisible

1 Dec
… and other nice ideas.

How do you know that your employer is paying you fairly? Please, take a minute to ponder this question. Go on, think about it.

Maybe you’re in a trade union, and your union negotiates set payscales and annual raises for you during meetings that are held publicly. Or maybe you work for a very large public corporation that determines comporatios using a fancy algorhthym (making sure to adjust down by ~20 percent for females, people of color, and people with disabilities, naturally). But if you’re anything like the vast majority of workers in the United States, the amount you are paid for the work that you do is determined through a process that is both opaque and sinister.

Look! It’s a plane! It’s a bird!
It’s a bell curve!

This process is so opaque, in fact, that you may need to use a web site like salary.com to find out if you are even in the ballpark of what others in your field are paid. You don’t know what your colleagues are paid, and what’s more, you can be punished if you ask – professionally and socially. What’s worse, your colleague can be fired if he or she has the audacity to answer you truthfully.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Your employers have a vested interested in keeping you as in-the-dark as possible as to what’s a fair rate for the work you do. A well-informed employee is difficult to manipulate, and certainly difficult to underpay. Fortune, in this case, favors those with the power to keep secrets. If Susan learns that Bob is paid $15,000 more per year than she is to do the same work, it suddenly becomes very difficult to motivate Susan to work hard without shelling out some cash. And so in most HR handbooks in the US, you’ll find a clause that prohibits discussing compensation packages with coworkers.

Are you being paid in salted legumes?

Meanwhile, corporations are blithely exercising their right to investigate employees’ (and even potential employees’) salary history. Many will ask for your compensation history as part of the job application process. Those that don’t can demand to see last year’s W-2s. But ask how much the last person in the position you’re applying for made, and suddenly you’re on thin ice. Ask your supervisor his or her salary, and you’re in hot water. Try it with a colleague, and you’re a pariah.

When it comes to salaries, corporations and society in general are ignoring a golden rule: Open and honest discourse, along with the free flow of information, is good. Sure, the purging process can get ugly (WikiLeaks. Watergate. Whatever.), but secrecy solves nothing.

It’s time for us to admit that it’s not always hard work or talent or creativity that lands employees raises and promotions. Often, it can be completely random, or informed by nepotism, or malice. On the whole, employers simply pay people as little as they think they can get away with – rewarding cocky employees or savvy negotiators while punishing more quietly effective ones. 

I’m not advocating the violent overthrow of the government here, but I am advocating something that will probably shock people around you. Just try following these simple steps next time you’re at a cocktail party:

“OMG, ferserious you guys,
that crazy chick so totally just asked
 me how much I make a year.”

1. Ask someone point-blank how much money they make.
2. Watch them sputter in shock.
3. Observe as other guests within earshot shoot you nasty looks.
4. Ask again.
5. Wait for someone to try to take your keys away, because clearly you are too drunk to drive home.

It’s funny, kind of. But mostly it’s just sick and twisted. We can easily find ourselves in deep conversation about the things that surround money – the type of cars people drive, the neighborhoods our houses are in, the schools we send our bratlings to. But the minute you ask someone to put a concrete figure on exactly what it is that enables their lifestyle, bit it Bimmer or Wheelbarrow, you’re an antisocial little freak.

So join me in my awkwardly-talking-about-money-revolution. Follow the five steps above, and please, let me know how it goes.

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