Underreported: Missing the Midwest

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The American Midwest is often ignored or oversimplified by the mainstream media. We'll look into why coverage of the Midwest is becoming even thinner, and catch up on some of the issues that haven't made the headlines in New York. Michael Massing, whose article "Missing Middle" appears in the Columbia Journalism Review, is joined by Tori Ekstrand, assistant professor of journalism at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.


Tori Ekstrand and Michael Massing

Comments [4]

Tori Ekstrand from Bowling Green, OH

Thanks for your really thoughtful responses here.

While we can't expect New York media to fully understand the specifics of Midwest life, or of any region, really, the growing problem is an increasingly lopsided, out-of-touch national conversation about who we really are.

This has extraordinarily implications for our self-governance process, or lack of it.

If the Today Show was one of your primary sources of news about the nation -- as it is for many -- that view would include all the imporant national gov't stories of the day (mostly out of NY, DC and Calif.) with lots of information about plastic surgery, handbags that cost more than $100 and women's health issues. All these topics deserve coverage, but really don't reflect the entirety of life in the Midwest.

It's impossible to cover it all. I remember because I worked in NY media and heard these criticisms while I was there.

But again, I ask: What would a national news morning show based in the Midwest look like? And how would that change our national discussion?

May. 18 2007 10:24 AM
Alex Poole from Bowling Green, KY

I'm originally from Iowa, have lived abroad and visited many countries, and feel like the ignorance about the Midwest by people from New York and other large costal cities is unbelievable! The lack of geographic literacy is really very disturbing. Also, the Midwest is a politically diverse state: some conservatives, but a lot of radical leftists.

May. 04 2007 10:21 AM
eric j henderson from brooklyn. chicago

I live in Brooklyn and Chicago and see the mis-reporting or under-reporting simply as acceptable lapses in professionalism - I mean acceptable by the mass media. The errors described by Mr. Lawrence are more than lapses in consciousness since inferences based on fact are involved. That's poor reporting.

There would still be plenty to report if they stayed away from inference or opinion based on facts they haven't investigated.

We'll always have this, though, and I think it makes for a cool moment of arbitrage. As long as there's the blind spot based on regional differences translating into blurted-out class differences ("the midwest ain't cool"), then, there'll always be some good discussion, if only on what Umberto Eco describes as the "force of falsity" in our news culture.

You can't expect nyc to be literate on other places any more than you can expect Dallas to be literate on nyc. Urban is not urbane. NYC, though, gets a pass on its parochialism as we dare to speak on the world.

That citybilly myopia is, in itself, entertaining.

I'm from Texas originally and that puts me not only 'behind' nyc, but also 'behind' Chicago. It stays interesting to hear, "You don' you're from Texas" from folks who've only read headlines. But I know I do "whatever" like I'm from Texas. It's just that my Texas doesn't fit in the nation's cartoon coloring book of Texas all the time. (sometimes it does all too well.)

It's not to take offense, but rather for us to recognize a little window to learn something about each other. We couldn't do that if we were one homogeneous, non-parochial mass.

May. 03 2007 09:41 PM
Robert Lawrence from Jackson Heights

I was born in Columbus, OH and went to school 50 mi east in Zanesville, spending summers, Xmas, and Easter week back in Columbus.

Then I went to high school and college in Louisville, KY [when Dad, a WWII army officer transferred from active to reserve duty, he moved 30 mi north from Ft. Knox to Louisville]. For those unfamiliar with the midwest, Louisville is 400 mi down I-71 from Columbus, about an hour from Cincinnati. Louisville is 2 hours south of Indianapolis on I-65 and 3 hours north of Nashville on I-65, and about 4 hours east of St. Louis on I-64 [it is about a 5-hour drive up I-65 from Louisville to Chicago; beware! It is 5 eighteen-wheel tractor trailers per every automobile].

Yes, people in the northeast, unless they have relatives in the midwest, have not sense of the place, and sorta confuse Kansas with Ohio; they are nothing alike and nearly 1,000 miles apart. But it takes some real effort to get people in each of these locations to be intersted in people in other parts of the country.

I have read some very good articles on the midwest in THE NEW YORK TIMES, only to come on a sentence or two that reveals the reporter is just reporting on the topic and knows nothing about the area. A recent article on the problems of the KY governor comes to mind. Clearly the reporter did not know that KY was once a part of VA, that it became a state in 1792, and that until recently the legislature only met every OTHER year for 3 months, January-March. Originally, of course, West Virginia was VA; they separated only during the Civil War. KY itself, with only 4 or 5 million people, is 40,000 sq mi and has some great differences [even as NY is different from Chautauqua Co., to Jefferson Co., to Rockland Co.]. We need to be far more concious of these differences, celebrate them, and learn about them so that we better respect one another.

Robert Lawrence

May. 03 2007 01:03 PM

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