Silo’s prevail between institutions inside and outside of government. Silo’s also populate public discourse, media reports and academic journals.
Why so many silo’s, the isolation of content and context on one subject, issue, field or perspective from all other subjects that, while it offers “expert” data, analysis, and interpretation on a single subject, fails to connect the dots that connect each subject/file/issue from the many other files with which it connects, and naturally how each file impacts all related files?
Last night, on DVR, my wife and I watched a TVOntario documentary about the impact of global warming and climate change on multiple serious and growing public issues facing the people of the planet. Poverty, refugees, food production and supply, civil conflict, terrorism, and national security are, if we are to credit the producers of this documentary (and given the source and the content, who would?) all impacted by the rising crisis of global warming and climate change.
Nevertheless, the mass media parses stories in mini-vials of data, with dates, numbers of people and dollars, and, except for a rare much more comprehensive and deeper ‘dig’ into the relationship between those stories, and people, that warrant daily coverage, we are all left questioning their relationship to our lives, and thus to all of the other ‘stories’ we read every day.
Experts in national security, the military, the United Nations, national politics, atmospheric science, and refugee camps each must have a chair at the “table” of public conscience, and public decision-making; yet, so far as one can see, there is quite literally no “table” at which the various sit, face each other and make recommendations to national governments and international bodies like the IMF, the Security Council, the G7/20, NATO. We learn about a Paris Accord on global warming and climate change, through which many countries pledge to take steps to reduce their production of carbon dioxide, methane and other toxic gases from the atmosphere. No where in those meetings are people whose responsibility it is to study and then to manage any of the multiple impacts of the gaseous effluent, as if the obviously intelligent and experienced political and scientific leaders are able and willing to face the issue on a single front: green-house gas emissions.
It is as if the planet is another patient being diagnosed and potentially treated through a medical lens, with recommendations (and not conditions or sanctions) for their respective governments. If and when the recommended prescription(s) are respected, adhered to, and deployed as benchmarks, then the patient might get better. Better, but certainly not healthy; that would be far too much to expect given the competing interests of the fossil fuel industry, the banking and financial institutions sector, the multiple political agendas and the relative wealth (and thereby political clout) of each participating jurisdiction. Yet, the planet earth is much more than a medical patient; it is a source of food, water, air and naturalfo resources from which many products are manufactured. And responsibility for the health of this fragile and beautiful planet is necessarily shared by all of the people whose lives directly and indirectly depend on the good health of the many forces that contribute to the earth’s eco-system.
Of course, human lives also depend on the wages people earn by working and producing “wealth”. However, the single and rather simple (on the surface) effort to attempt to integrate effective processes to preserve and protect the climate with the various capacities for individuals and corporations and governments to make money/investments/tax revenue seems beyond reach in most places. Competing political forces, each seeming to be portrayed to be engaged in a zero sum game, (if I win, you must lose and vice versa), provide an oscillating tension in many places, with the ebb and flow of each side depending on the degree to which it can and does mount effective, convincing and credible campaigns for what each considers “justice” and appropriate ethical decisions.
It was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier today who, when asked about “systemic racism” within the government and within long-standing institutions, noted that indeed, institutions have been built and established patterns of existence long before many of the standards of racism of today were even considered. He also acknowledged that change within governments and large institutions is very difficult, no matter how worthy and necessary, given the depth and resistance of the established patterns and cultures.
We have, then, two mammoth forces each exerting considerable influence on how the public “systems” work, the history and traditions of the institutions themselves and the current “coverage” of what can only be considered micro-bytes of news stories. Each individual citizen is then expected to make sense of a kind of rifle-shot (with multiple rounds) of news stories marching along the streets and minds in front of or behind the multiple institutions charged with the leadership and management of each of the important issues facing each jurisdiction.
Needless to say, the volume and velocity of public information have both increased exponentially in the last three or four decades. The range of sources (both people and places) from which those stories are derived, however, has not kept pace with the technology, and many reputable news sources have significantly cut the number of hired reporters in “foreign bureaus” which themselves have also been significantly reduced in number. How often we see and hear a “contract free-lance reporter covering an international story, given that advertising budgets have shifted away from traditional media outlets to a tidal wave of digital media, each grabbing and holding a niche readership, analogous to boutique retail or hotel opportunities. Segmentation by audience, another of the obvious yet serious implications of the for-profit marketplace when applied to the information business, is another of the many segmentation ripples that seem to balkanize both the information and the respective audience for that information.
The internet has, indeed, made many more information gatherers, reporters and opinion-writers and thinkers, from world capitals; yet, the national media in each location continue to focus primarily on the internal (to their geography) issues and personalities of their immediate audience. And occasionally, we hear that leader “X” spoke on the phone with leader “Y” about subject “Z”…another example of a detached, likely strategically arranged voice-opportunity for one or the other, to placate, pander to and pad the public acclaim for one or both leaders. These incidental reports, like the flurry of other incidental reports, while making token gestures to link story “a” to its own development, and potential implications, offer a menu of what can literally be described as “fast-food” of the non-nutritious kind, filled with what we used to call binder (in hotdogs) with very little meat.
And what little morsels of meat there are drop like signature pieces for the respective reporters/networks, who themselves are mired in a competitive battle for both ratings and the advertising dollars that accompany ratings, both positively and negatively. And therein lies another of the counter-intuitive forces behind how stories are written, and presented, whether as “facts” or “opinion” and then only through a very narrow and highly subjected to a “hot-button” selection process that assures both reporter and network of those required Neilson ratings.
Too few are the publications like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, The Economist, and only upon occasion do the mass media pick up a story from one of those operations, as an enhancement to the regular fare.
Local media, in many small and medium-size towns and cities have either evaporated entirely or been purchased by the ‘big boys’ as another way to supplement, without much cost, the advertising revenue. One local mayor of a small town recently informed this scribe that following each town council meeting he is literally never asked a single question about the background, premises, or arguments in favour or against any action he is proposing or upon which the council has or will vote. There is in that town an open field for whatever kind of development those with the deep pockets wish to put in place, with barely a public hearing to filter its dimensions and its quality and appropriateness.
And then, suddenly a law enforcement officer’s knee is driven into the neck of a black man lethally in Minneapolis, and social media carry the video into every town and city, and nearly every home on the planet. It is not as if there is no public interest, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, in how the world is “working” (or not) and yet the nutritional value of the media being consumed by a majority of citizens is relatively low, growing even lower and the need for deeper, more “connected” dots on more information landscapes that incorporate all of the impacting files we all know are competing.
Just as there is unconscious bias in all institutions, there is also a cultural pattern to how each of us learns about the world we live in. And if both the stories and the platforms and the curation of those stories leaves the global audience largely in the dark, (unless and until a global pandemic, or a massive oil spill, or a tidal wave of locusts swarm an African desert, or a tornado or tidal wave drowns hundreds of thousands of people), then we participate in another of the replicating patterns of crisis intervention.
Again, based on a medical model, especially a medical model that pertains in the life of most if not all men on the planet, one that puts off signs of sickness until too late, one that dismisses any indication of deep depression, anxiety or fear because to acknowledge any of those symptoms as reality would be to admit something called failure, the world is left scrambling in a moment of shared crisis. And the information about wet markets and invasions of animal habitats, both expressions of a for-profit pursuit of wealth, without needed controls and sanctions and environmental protections, that protect the food supply and the health of every person on the planet, was know, and shared minimally, without adequate surrender of sovereignty to make any difference.
We all know that we live in an inter-and inner-connected world, (not only in a global marketplace) in which whatever happens in one corner of the world impacts all regions of the planet. National boundaries of privacy, (in the public issue sense and not in the personal privacy sense) are no longer appropriate to the size and complexity and boundry-less nature of most of the world’s pressing and potentially threatening forces. Air, water, climate, and biological viruses neither know nor respect national boundaries. It is a cliché to note we all share their bounty and their poison almost simultaneously.
However, we are not noticeably and urgently developing a global news coverage that seeks perspective from multiple cultures, multiple historic traditions and multiple creativities. Nor are we developing the cultural frameworks needed to shape opinion in a manner that would give high regard and significance to protecting the environment, and the WHO, and the WTO, and the United Nations and the kinds of educational curricula that would require all teachers to be exposed to at least one culture and history not prominent in his or her native country. We are not demanding that mass media corporations provide more curation of information that sheds light on the inevitable and shadowing intersection of the major stories with the many other stories.
It used to be, when writing a news story for print or radio or television that the writer was guided to write for a “grade six, or a twelve-year-old audience” (such patronizing condescension!) so that everyone could and would grasp its content and meaning. Today, hopefully, those same journalism students could be encouraged to write for at least a high-school graduate audience. It is not incidental to note that people who have training and experience in fields other than journalism are making inroads in some mass media circles signalling an appetite for more in depth, and more cross-story-links in the choice of guests, the choice and treatment of issues and the kind of energy that curious people everywhere have an interest in consuming.
Now, if national and intellectual boundaries could be opened, in the manner in which PBS regularly includes the BBC program Outside Sources nightly, so that people everywhere would learn more than the hot-button headlines from other places. We might also glean glimpses of creative measures being applied to the various issues threatening mankind everywhere, (and not only in one or two countries) in places no known for their wealth or military power or cyber-invasive compulsions.
I know, just another tilting at windmills of my own mind!