Social responsibility in journalism, new media, niche media at the start of the 21st century-- an indictment

I’ve had an odd confluence of events yesterday:

In the morning I interviewed Mark Brayne for a feature I’m writing about the psychology of climate change. And in the afternoon I had a fight with my boss about the content for the green blog video site I blog professionally for.

The interview with Brayne was mostly about how society becomes convinced enough about the prospect of climate change to actually change our behavior. As a former journalist and current psychotherapist, Brayne has a unique perspective on the ability of the media to influence behavior (scroll down to hear a podcast of our conversation about the media). He also has a very profound indictment of the state of the modern media.

Taking a step back, during and before both world wars propaganda campaigns were waged by governments to aid the war effort. More specifically, during World War II, the British government needed the British population to behave in a certain way: austere behavior in the buying and use of goods. Austerity, green-economic experts like Andrew Simms believe, needs to be revived to make the public transition to the mentality necessary to adapt to climate change and continue to survive on this planet.

Post WWII, Sigmund Freud’s daughter Anna and his nephew Edward Bernays were instrumental in spreading consumption as the driver of economic growth. Post-war people were too frugal, the market for newly produced goods wasn’t big enough. Bernaise figured out how to appeal to our animal instinct in order to get us to buy things and fulfill subconscious needs.

Brayne has a rather profound indictment of early 21st century journalism and it’s its effect on human behavior: “The concept of modern independent free media that I can write what I like and that’s it’s really just about ratings and sales is profoundly irresponsible.... The media don’t want to be regulated, actually they don’t want to be accountable to anybody. Journalists have a massive responsibility to take their profession more seriously than they do.”

“And if journalists say ‘well, I’m only in the business of giving people what they want, and entertainment,’ I think the media at the beginning of the 21st century is not fit for purpose. I don’t think politics is fit for purpose. And I don’t think consumerism--economics-- is fit for purpose.”

(To listen to our conversation about the media in full, click below: )

What does this have to do with my day job as a professional green blogger?

The site I blog for professionally is partnered with NGO's, businesses, and government agencies. My vision for the blog is to make a discussion space for different views about transitioning to a sustainable economy: like juxatopsing Alstom and their “green” plans for carbon capture and storage next to Greenpeace which opposes coal power (we have videos from both). Without saying too much about the dispute: there are plenty of frivolous green websites that sell themselves using celebs, nudity, and material-culture to consumerize green. The green video site I blog for has a responsibility to be bigger than consumerism. And it is well positioned in the UK market to be exactly that.

Franny Armstrong in a video says about the stakes of climate change, “It’s everything you know, everyone you love, everything’s at stake.” Brayne is right, the media helped consumerize our culture and now it has a deep and profound responsibility to contribute to the sustainable transition. That’s the kind of journalist I want to be.

*for more information about Brayne's work on climate change psychology, see his consortium website

Update 20 Sep: My boss and I did have it out and I've retained my editorial freedom for now on the basis of the success of the blog. But if it comes to blogging about celebs and porn I'll quit first. And that would be sad for the green video site because I am unpaid labour: if I walk the blog shuts down. The environment is too important for failure.


Jonathan Eyler-Werve said...

Hi Ann -- where is this video site you speak of?

Related: as a wisconsin person, you may be interested in this, The author (my wife Kate) took the summer off, but is likely to get back into it soon. Like your interviewee Kate's interests in sustainability center on the psychology of change.

thedancingflea said...

It's definitely a dangerous attitude to have towards something which is as important as sustainable living and preventing runaway climate change - it is the consumer society, after all, which has given us the idea that everything is inconsequential and disposable. This is something that needs to be mitigated, so while it is true that these lifestyle changes need to be "sold" to sceptics, I don't think the same old tricks and methods will cut it.

Jamie Potter said...

I agree entirely, I'm just not sure the media want to admit that we have to make significant changes to the way we live, the same way that much of society is unwilling to face that truth.

Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Eyler-Werve said...

Hi Ann,

Kate of Chicago Green Jobs has written a response to your post. Her take: austerity is the wrong message.

Read here:

Maia Maia said...

Basically the problem is we have with climate change et al. is not one enforced upon us entirely by some cabal of irresponsible elites - we are all complicit. So we need to ask ourselves, as non-passive multidimensional being of incredible if unrealised power, what are we going to do about it? What is the opportunity, the profound honour, of being alive at this time in history? It is this vision that will take us forward.

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Ann is a freelance new media journalist, educated in Finance Economics. She considers herself to be a citizen of the world, though she is American by nationality, and a legal resident of the state of Wisconsin (yeah, go ahead and chuckle). See her other blog: Missing The Bear.
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