J500 Media and the Environment


After all’s said and done by bendcohen

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when beginning a class on Media and the Environment.  Those are two very broad things that obviously have a relationship, but finding an interesting way to discuss that relationship in a semester-long college course could be difficult.  In order to really understand the way that mass media  and the environment are connected, the right way to do it in such a time frame is to focus on a specific area, and as I quickly discovered, that is what we were doing.  Admittedly, it is not one which I considered myself well-versed in.

I always hear about the importance of buying local, for the economic reasons if nothing else.  Buy local food, and you support people in your community, while reducing the power and influence of corporate giants like Wal-Mart.  Having once won $50 for making a poster making fun of Wal-Mart (their smiley-face logo had dollar signs for eyes, and the slogan became “Everyday Low Morals”), I’m obviously quite enthusiastic about this.  What I got a grasp on from reading about the various aspects of local foods was that there are many more affects to take pride in, beyond simply malicious joy at harming a chain store.

Local food systems provide the potential for work, community bonding, and healthy diets in places they otherwise would not be.  Food producers with a smaller market to worry about do not need to take such a concern with mass-production, and thus have less problems with animal cruelty, overuse of pesticides and antibiotics, and disruption of nearby communities.  I found it strangely appropriate that the Pitch, a Kansas City-based free magazine, published a story about  a major pork-producer in Missouri losing a court case regarding how the smell from its plant disrupted the lives of the people living nearby right after we discussed major meat producers in class.

That brings us to the “Media” aspect of this class.  While the focus of in-class discussions was often on local food itself, everything was prompted by an article either on a blog or a major media outlet.  Having briefly flirted with becoming a Journalism major early in my college career (I happily went with Political Science instead), the role the media plays as a gatekeeper in any subject interests me.  The semester previous to this one, I took a class on Media and Politics, and got to examine how media outlets, both big and small, portray people and issues.  I started this class curious about the kinds of rhetoric I’d hear regarding the environment within mass media, though my attention sort of shifted to simply WHO was covering food systems.  I mentioned the Pitch, a decidedly alternative publication before, and have noticed that most places which give food the time of day are also smaller, “alternative” sources.  When a major outlet like NPR or the New York Times pays attention, it is in the form of a special interest story, or a response to something else (like a critical NPR review of “Food, Inc.”, from somebody who soon learned had yet to actually see that film).

The sole promotional image from my short-lived campaign for Governor of Kansas.

As a small player in the news media myself, I’m going to be looking with more interest having taken this class at how food is portrayed from here on.  And as a wannabe politician, maybe I’ll get to have a say in the things that make the news someday.  Time will tell.

~Ben C.

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