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Putting the me in media conference coverage.

GENERAL SEMANTICS can be used as a tool to understand media messages. If a person better understands those messages, he or she can become a more active, critical consumer of media.

When a media consumer becomes a more active, critical consumer, he or she has put the "me" in the media message flow.

That was the main premise of a conference, called "Putting the Me in the Media," held January 30, 1993 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). The newly-formed Midwest Society for General Semantics (MSGS) and the UWM chapter of Society for Professional Journalists co-sponsored the event.

Eighty-two people attended the day-long event. Many were UWM and Alverno College students.

Kathleen Dunn, a Milwaukee radio talk show host, said media fall into themes, or paradigms. One of the paradigms for her particular medium is to "become a theater of the air, which is loud and male-dominated."

Many of the radio talk show hosts hold conservative political views and are confrontational with their guests and callers. This has led to high ratings and in many cases, but has downgraded the quality of discourse on these shows, in Dunn's opinion.

Dunn said the talk show format still provides an opportunity for the listener to put the me in the communication process. "It gives people a chance to interact with guests and the host on the topics which interest them," she said.

Milton Dawes, a Montreal teacher of general semantics, said the me is really always in the media, because each person uses their own "measure" to interpret what is seen and heard.

According to Dawes, we give our words our own meaning and, therefore, must examine why and how we make our judgments about the media messages.

Kenneth Johnson, professor emeritus at UWM and an author and editor of general semantics books and articles, used some optical illusions to raise points about the individual's perception process. Johnson then emphasized that a similar process goes on when an individual becomes part of the media message communication flow.

"We don't see with just our eyes, but our experience," Johnson said. Therefore, each sender and receiver of a media message brings his or her experience to the interpretation of that message, he emphasized.

A former science journalist, Johnson explained that it is a misconception that objectivity can actually be attained in the media.

"Journalism shows a small slice of what is actually happening," said Johnson.

Gregg Hoffmann, a senior lecturer at UWM and a veteran journalist, broke the group into smaller sub-groups and had each "team" put together a 21-minute newscast from a selection of stories.

The teams' decisions reflected many subjective decisions. Even though many of the members of the teams were not journalism students, many of the decisions were reached through somewhat similar criteria applied by TV journalists.

"Many of the decisions reached by news people are based on assumptions about the likes and dislikes of their audience," Hoffmann said.

Many factors affect what becomes news. Those factors include space and time limitatioins, market makeup, limitations of the language, technical demands, learned values about what "is" news, and individual limitations of the journalist.

"We must learn to acknowledge the limitations of news reporting," Hoffmann said. "If you better understand what goes into producing a media message, you can become a more active evaluator of that message. You can actively put the me in the media."

Much of what we think we know about the world actually comes either directly or indirectly from media messages. Therefore, we can become better mappers of the world if we understand how our "map sources" perceive the territory, the speakers emphasized.

The conference was the first for the MSGS, which became an official affiliate of the Institute of General Semantics last The MSGS also meets in the Milwaukee-Chicago area every other month.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rozga, Karen
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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