Media Literacy 101: Reflecting on *Why* Articles are Published

There was an interesting article in yesterday’s “Le Figaro”. Titled “Une Webcam chez la nounou pour rassurer les parents” ("A webcam at the nanny to reassure the parents") at http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualites/2007/12/04/01001-20071204ARTFIG00193-une-webcam-chez-la-nounou-pour-rassurer-les-parents.php, it tells the story of a professional child carer in the French town of Lyon who has installed a webcam so that her customers can monitor their children at any time of the day.

The “nounou”, Valérie Boccara, installed the camera on her own initiative. She told Le Figaro’s Delphine de Mallevoüe that she did it to reassure parents, pointing out that some parents are wary after a number of cases where other nannies mistreated their charges. It also provides a competitive advantage over other nannies, a fact that she cannot be unaware of. But the subject is highly controversial because some people consider it “spying” on someone in their own home, and some people fear that other nannies will be compelled to follow her example just to stay in business.

The article stimulated some discussion from the readers. One nanny suggested that they also put webcams in the homes of parents while most were broadly in favor of the idea. Another pointed out that she had actually done this a long time ago, and this reveals the interesting fact that readers will discuss and think about every aspect of the story except the most important: why is the article there. Let me explain.

Under the title is a revealing subtitle that should make everyone think: “C’est la premiere fois qu’une assistante maternelle accepte chez elle la presence d’une camera” (“It’s the first time that a maternal assistant accepts the presence of a camera at her place”). Now if you didn’t think about this before think about it now. How did Le Figaro know it is the first? Isn’t it more likely that it is the first that they have heard of?

And this leads us to the most important question. To understand fully the implications of an article you need to learn to read between the lines and to ask yourself why it is there in the first place. This is true for any article but I chose yesterday’s example from Le Figaro because it is a good example of an article where the origin is not clear at all, so there is plenty of room for reflection.

First of all, there has been no court case or other public event that could have put this information into the hands of Le Figaro. It is also not likely that the paper stakes out nannies everywhere watching for the installation of webcams and this fact is not something that even neighbors might see. What seems the most likely possibility is that someone has reported the fact to the paper, but who?

Without actually asking the people concerned we can only make a list of the possible suspects. It could be Ms Boccara herself. It could be one of her customers who happens to have contacts in the media/PR business. It could be some sort or professional organization that is preparing a debate to defend its members, or it could be a webcam vendor hoping to develop a market niche.

It is not actually important to me who did it in this case, but what is important is that everyone realizes that when a newspaper publishes an article there has to be a reason. Sometimes it is obvious, but in other cases you can and should reflect on this. For example, an article about the dangers of losing all your data in a disk crash might be inspired by a company selling backup solutions and an article about the danger of viruses in mp3 music files could have come from representatives of copyright owners.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Speaking: When Silence Works Better Than Words

Influencing: How Airbnb Organizes the Host Community