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Vicious Cycles


No news isn’t an option: a consideration of the function and meaning of the news media

“Until the news can say, ‘We have no show (or paper) today because there is nothing of significance to concern you,’ the news will build its monument to truth on a lie.” So writes Greg Jackson in “Vicious Cycles,” published in the January issue of Harper’s Magazine, an essay that looks past the transfixing plotlines of the news cycle to question the inherent limitations of the news. For Jackson, a fiction writer, the unacknowledged imperative to keep audiences engaged shapes every aspect of the news, from its sense of what’s important to the way pundits help relieve us of ideological uncertainty. As for a response to the problems the news presents us with each day, it tends to offer just one: stay tuned for more.

In this episode, web editor Violet Lucca speaks with Jackson to discuss the work of the media theorist Neil Postman; how a “facts versus falsehoods” approach to analyzing news outlets ignores their more fundamental influence on our worldview; the difference between ideology and education; and whether culture itself can help us turn away from the noise of the attention economy.

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June 2021

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