Friday, February 17, 2012

Media Reflects Social Values

Outside the TSU (Titan Student Union) building at Cal State Fullerton is a free newsstand. Students can pick up free copies of the New York Times, the LA Times, the OC Register, USA Today, and the Daily Titan. Since I discovered this, I have been reading the news more. My favorite publications of the bunch are the New York Times and the Daily Titan. I actually prefer the Daily Titan to the OC Register, because it reflects the voice of the youth.

But today, the only paper left on the racks was the OC Register. I don’t like the Register because it is a big corporation, and its stories often reflect a conservative/Republican bent. Reluctantly, I picked up a copy and began reading. The cover story confirmed my suspicions. It read “O.C. home prices drop below $400,000 in January for the first time in 33 months as sales slow in most areas.” My first reaction was…There are people dying in Syria, there is homelessness, poverty, and a dip in real estate prices below $400,000 is cover story material?!

It was then that I realized that media outlets like the Register (and the New York Times) reflect the cultural values of their audience. For people in Orange County, real estate prices are hugely important. Yesterday, I was in the local history room doing some research and some Heritage group came in to have a meeting. I did a little eavesdropping on their meeting, and was shocked to hear that the main purpose of their group seemed to be to increase property values in Fullerton by having houses designated as historically significant. They were not really interested in community history unless it had a direct bearing on housing values. That was the sense I got.

This makes sense, as housing is expensive in Orange County and, for property owners, it is often their main investment. But people like me who do not own property don’t give a shit. I am more interested in social issues like poverty, the arts, homelessness, social justice, diversity, etc. The media outlets I choose to read like the Daily Titan, the OC Weekly, and the New York Times also value these things. For example, the cover story for the Daily Titan today was “Grant Given for Green Life.” It was about how the CSUF Greenhouse (a 21,000 square foot building, not to be confused with the Arboretum) just received an $800,000 grant to continue plant research. To me, that is way more interesting than housing prices.

People of my generation often complain about how the media is corrupt, corporate-owned bullshit. But, in a sense, we as an audience control the media. We get to choose which media outlets we will support and pay attention to, and which we will reject. Change begins within each individual. The choices we make, and the things we choose to support, have a real bearing on how things go. Also, reading media outlets that we disagree with can often give us insight into how other people think, into their social values. Even though I was cringing as I read the OC Register, it helped me understand something: people in Orange County care about real estate A LOT. I don’t, but it’s helpful to understand the climate I’m living in, if I am to effect any kind of real change.

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