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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Does ‘Harry Potter’ misrepresent journalism and newspapers?

A new study in the American Communication Journal frets that children are getting the wrong ideas about journalism and newspapers from Harry Potter. (The study looks at the books, but it applies to the movies as well.) The abstract:

This framing study examines how author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of children’s books treats the news media and how that treatment could affect children. Researchers first studied quotes from the first six books regarding the media, and based on the overall categorization of those quotes, they determined the three main frames in which media is viewed: Government Control of Journalism, Misleading Journalism, and Unethical Means of Gathering Information. Based on these frames, researchers argue the Harry Potter series does not put the media in a positive light. Because of this, children could potentially perceive the news media in general as untrustworthy and controlled by the government. Given the prevalence of tabloid journalism and “entertainment” news, children’s understanding of true journalistic integrity, journalism as a career, and even positive social behaviors could be negatively affected due to this depiction, in light of the overwhelming popularity of the series

Frankly, this sounds like one of those studies that scientifically proves that chicken soup tastes good when you’re sick: Has there ever been any doubt that Harry Potter “does not put the media in a positive light”? The real question is, of course, why anyone would think it’s a bad thing for children to “perceive the news media in general as untrustworthy and controlled by the government,” considering the current state of the media. People are worried that children don’t understand “true journalistic integrity”? Maybe the ACJ should be worried that journalists don’t understand true journalistic integrity.

Really, the ACJ study is quite adorable:

The ideal goal of journalism is to ensure an informed citizenry in an objective and truthful manner. Due to the fact that the representation of journalism in the Harry Potter series is overwhelmingly negative, children who read the series could infer that all news media are slanted and deceptive. They could also come to believe that a career as a journalist is not an honorable profession. For this reason, parents and educators should be mindful of this possibility and expose children to a wide variety of literature that demonstrates the essential role of journalism in a free society.

It’s ridiculous to blame Harry Potter if kids are getting a certain idea about journalists and the news media: we should blame journalists and the news media for that. Sure, children should understand the “essential role of journalism in a free society,” but shouldn’t that come from the good example of a news media that is actually serving that function? Isn’t it absurd to blame a work of fiction representing the real world as it really is? Should we expect literature for children to be nothing but fantastical? If Harry Potter did offer an idealized version of journalism and the news media, wouldn’t that give kids the wrong idea that the media they see in the world outside Harry Potter is meeting that ideal?

And hey! Doesn’t Harry Potter teach kids to be skeptical of the media, by showing them that what the media propagates isn’t always the truth? Isn’t that a good lesson for them to learn?

The cuteness continues:

The depiction of journalism in the Harry Potter series was found to be predominantly negative. There were very few references to credible, non-obstructive news and these references were very minor when compared to the other journalism references in the series as a whole. Journalism as portrayed in the Potter world is heavily slanted and misleading. Information is often obtained through unethical and illegal means and is intended to damage the credibility of the subjects concerned. In addition, only one journalist of any consequence is mentioned by name in the series, and she is revealed to be the epitome of the corrupt, yellow journalist stereotype.

Why, you’d almost thing the ACJ researchers were the ones living in a fantasy world, one in which journalism wasn’t “heavily slanted and misleading”! Have these people seen the state of journalism?

Am I wrong? Does Harry Potter misrepresent journalism and newspapers? Or does it give kids an accurate, if depressing, reflection of reality?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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