The Washington Post recently published a fairly lengthy article called “Pearls Before Breakfast” that answers a question no one in particular was asking: would subway commuters take better notice of music performed in a subway hallway if the busker were a world-class concert artist? I’m late getting to this topic so there have already been plenty of bloggers offering their two cents. Of those I’ve read, none really speaks to my take on the subject, which is this: what on earth is The Washington Post doing staging its own news so that it can then report on it?
Media critics and laypersons alike have been complaining more bitterly of late that much of what the news media provides is utter garbage. Either reports are full of conjecture rather than fact because the rush to publish requires stories be told before enough time has elapsed to do the necessary legwork or reports are outright lies served up by those in government or business who have an interest in spinning stories to their own purposes and managing the perception of the public. The Post article is an example of manufactured news, and despite the interest it has generated, the article deserves heaps of scorn for being stunt, a staged event, created by an ethically bankrupt institution to provide falsely provocative content.
If the idea of putting a concert artist into the subway to play for tips had been hatched by, say, researchers at the sociology department at the University of Maryland, perhaps it would have been better conceived and more methodologically rigorous. The research paper that came out of it might have offered some worthwhile answers, but again, who is asking the questions? In truth, just as we have political theater, we now also have news theater, which is why in the modern day the media is so self-absorbed in reporting on itself and selling its product through the power of celebrity reporters. Where is the journalistic integrity that would forestall the circus-like salesmanship described above, and where are the voices of reason taking the Post to task over its blunder?