Criticizing media everywhere I turn

This is a blog about how being a journalism student has ruined what was once my innocent, media viewing life. AKA, how three years spent taking classes from one James “Jim” McPherson has single-handedly paved the way for this travesty to occur.

While traipsing through the Newseum today and the Smithsonian’s American History Museum yesterday, I was struck that the items I paid particular attention to had shifted drastically since the last time I was in DC. Before, I wandered the exhibits soaking up information and photographs like a sponge, eager to take in everything that awaited me. However mostly recently, I actively critiqued the images and information I saw, applying media criticism and analyzing the historical context. In both museums, I ran towards newspapers, examining the layout, kerning, tracking and positioning of headlines and columns of text. I questioned the relevancy and style of putting a massive headline across all eight columns, at the top of the New York Times. The process of putting ten subheads underneath a single headline, and then listing four stories with butting headlines right by each other! Oh, my little journalist’s heart was aching and my eyes were burning as I saw the rules of design I cherish being chipped away right in front of me.

That was just the text; there was a whole other set of critiques found in the images displayed. The portrayal of the Vietnam War was especially telling, as in a barrage of images I saw a good 12 Jim had either shown in class or I’d stumbled upon in my research. I pressed my nose to the glass in these instances; reading detailed inscriptions to see if what the museum purported to know matched what I myself had learned via Jim. [On a separate chord, I shrieked with glee when examining a Native American exhibit, when I found an error pertaining to the Shoshone tribe and their projectile points, as learned by my summer of working for the US Forest Service].

While Jim may have taught me to question every thing I see or hear, mister Ronald Pyle taught me to question my questions, to find theories and define motives. Agenda-setting theory has legitimately permeated everything I have seen while in NYC and Washington, DC. Newseum had a section focusing on the corporate ownership of news media, showing how media has set and determined what people think about [media agenda -> public agenda -> policy agenda]. Then there was Bloomberg, Ketchum and others in NYC that also appealed to media theories, including semiotics and cultivation theory.

Beyond all this, Jessica and I discussed the little representation the West had on any of the exhibits we saw or museums visited. While it was interesting to examine the roots and history of America so in-depth, there was little to be discovered about the West, a geographic area that is still important to the development of the United States we know today. As a Nevadan, I was especially disappointed that there was no mention of the role Nevada played during the Civil War, as we were brought into the union for our mining industry and to make bullets for the union at a cheap and rapid rate.

On any account, being a journalist has provided hidden meaning as my education has shaped the way I view and define the world. While I long for the days where I could mindlessly watch content and pretend oblivion, I am grateful that I can no longer ignore questions that arise. So, I’ll grudgingly say “thanks”, and continue on this new path of media enlightenment.

  1. #1 by James McPherson on January 18, 2011 - 2:13 am

    So you didn’t say–did you find anything I got wrong? It’s possible–and I even learned something new at the Newseum today on my third visit, about the Pulitzer Prize-winning firefighter/baby photo from the Oklahoma City bombing. Glad to see you applying so much of your education!

  2. #2 by Jerod Jarvis on January 18, 2011 - 3:46 am

    Don’t take it personally – Jim’s out to make not just you, but ALL of us, into better, more rounded people. The nefariousness of it all boggles the mind.

    I too find myself examining things on a deeper level than I once did, whether from a technical standpoint (“that looks odd…I bet Andrea could do it better…”) or from a style standpoint (“That sounds wrong…I bet Tori could do it better…”) or from a creative standpoint (“that looks cool…I bet I could never do that even if I had help from my staff…”).

    That’s just the way of it, I suppose.

  3. #3 by karawhitney on January 19, 2011 - 1:14 am

    I think it’s Jims goal to ruin media for us. I think he loves it. Jerod’s right, (and Andrea I think you meant it this way too) it’s definitely “ruined” in the best sense.

    I feel like a lot of my classes at whitworth have “ruined” a lot of things for me. Social media, interpersonal communication and public speaking only to name a few. I’m never going to read, think, listen or tweet the same. I guess that’s what college is all about :o)

  4. #4 by chelseamichelle on January 21, 2011 - 11:34 pm

    Basically, I loved this post. It makes me happy that my mind isn’t the only one being overtaken by my professors. I haven’t been quite as permeated as you have, but I do find myself stopping to consider things I never would have before. Jim has certainly done a thorough job on our particular group.

    P.S. As much as I know about Civil War history, you taught me something in this post. I am eternally grateful. 🙂

  5. #5 by evannemontoya on January 22, 2011 - 9:05 pm

    Multiple people that we visited reminded us of the importance of thinking critically. I think it’s great to look at things and question the sources, and I’m so excited now for when I take those classes.

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