Models, Media, and News Coverage

Last month, model Cameron Russell gave a TED talk titled “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” In the aftermath of that talk, Russell’s idea that models are just individuals who won and capitalize upon a genetic lottery gained a lot of attention.

In a way, this is a good thing. We live in a society where looks are given a lot of attention, and this attention can have detrimental side effects: eating disorders, self-confidence problems — the list goes on. However, as Russell herself says in an editorial published through CNN after her talk, is it right that journalists only started this conversation after a model herself brought the issue up?

Suppose, for a moment, that we look away from the issue of societal beauty standards. Do journalists measure up in that regard? Possibly not.

Colin Powell gave a talk at the same TED conference as Russell, but only got a quarter of the attention (if you consider views of both talks online). Russell is the one who has been on morning shows in the past month, not Powell.

If we look at the Pew Research Center’s data for most discussed issues of 2011, we find out that this is actually a common occurrence. Journalists tend to cover some topics to a great extent (like the economy) but then leave other — possibly equally important — issues and either disregard them or give them little attention.

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Foreign Policy was even able to compile a list of major issues that weren’t discussed in the news in 2011 — and some of them are rather important (Indian military growth, US immigration issues, and drug wars in Mexico, to name a few). At the time of the article, they supposed that many of those issues would show up with greater frequency in 2012. In hindsight, though, did that happen?

So, what does this say about journalism in general? Are journalists, knowing full well that agenda setting is a reality, doing their jobs? Does it really take a model to start the conversation on how well journalists are doing? Is a change necessary? If so, what can be done?