Sensationalized Media -- Whose Fault Is It Really?
"I don't trust the mainstream media."
"Why does the news always focus on the bad stuff?"
Disdain, and often outright hatred, for journalists is nothing new. Bad journalists have given the rest of us a poor reputation for decades. But it seems that this negative view of the media has grown to an almighty fervor, egged on by, ahem, certain individuals.
But who is really to blame for the state of the media, and the way we digest it, in the modern age?
As someone who spent four years in journalism school at a university known for its communications program, I can assure you that journalists are trained first and foremost to present the truth and to do it with brevity and accuracy. In my reporting class, which got the reputation for failing 40 percent of students their first time through, if we so much as misspelled a name or used an incorrect number, we would get 50 points off our grade for that assignment. That's right. Two fact errors in an article, and it might be the most beautifully crafted bit of writing ever produced, but it would get a 0.
We were also trained to present the facts without infusing the story with our own opinion, unless the article was labeled "Opinion." We learned to pay attention to the implied meaning hidden behind seemingly innocent adjectives, then taught to leave them out altogether, and that there was no need to use a word other than "said" to attribute a quote.
Keep it simple. Keep it concise. Keep it accurate.
Stick to the facts.
We were also taught about the history of our field. We learned about the role journalists played in the American Revolution, in exposing corruption in the decades since and in bringing hard truths to light. Journalists like Benjamin Franklin and Nellie Bly were hugely inspirational to me.
We were taught that, as journalists, we served as the fourth branch of the government, with as much responsibility in the system of checks and balances as any other branch. We were the ones who kept the politicians and business-owners honest and answerable to the people they serve.
This is my view of who journalists are, and I guarantee that, more often than not, this is how the majority of journalists see, or once saw, themselves.
So what's the problem?
First of all, the epidemic of confirmation bias in the country right now is out of control. If someone agrees with me, they are right, and if someone disagrees, they are wrong...and stupid...and evil. So we search, in the endless supply of news organizations, websites and blogs, for a place where we can feel comfortable and never challenged to think a different way.
There are three enormous issues, and probably more, with this. 1. The truth becomes subjective and a matter of my personal tastes. 2. I am never asked to look at things from the perspective of another, stunting my empathy. 3. Trust between groups of people becomes impossible to forge, since everyone is convinced that anyone who gets their news from another source is lying to them.
Additionally, journalism is a field you need to be trained in to do it correctly, effectively and ethically. Just because a person can post to the internet doesn't make them a journalist, and just because they can rant angrily about an event, doesn't make it news. Be discerning with who you trust.
The second big problem with the news in our country is that, as the landscape of journalism changes and evolves, news corporations have to find new ways to stay afloat. News is a business, just like any other, but for some reason, we see people in the media making money as somehow a dirty thing. Are clothing retailers terrible people because they make money off of our need for clothes, or are farmers and restaurant owners evil for selling their food? No! They need to make money in order to continue clothing and feeding us.
It is the same in journalism. As I mentioned previously, the journalists are the ones who keep us informed so that our democracy can continue to run. Without them, who would tell us what so-and-so said on Capitol Hill or break down the pages upon pages of a proposed piece of legislation? So, in order to keep bringing us this information they rely on you, the consumer, for your business. Which brings us to the third, final and perhaps most impactful, but thankfully the most fixable, problem with sensationalized media.
What we choose to consume.
That's right. I am saying that the biggest problem in the way the media handles the news is us.
If news organizations rely on our bucks to continue reporting the news, then we vote with our dollars by what we choose to watch, listen to and read. We can't complain that the news only focuses on horrific tragedies when we only tune in to watch as one unfolds. We can't blame the news for presenting with a slant, when networks that report news in obviously slanted fashion are the ones we watch the most.
Of course, we want our journalists to be better than that, to lead us in the right direction, but they need a job just like anyone else, and when we tell them that we want sensationalized news coverage that's what they will eventually be forced to give us, whether they want to or not.
So, what do you want from the news? Straightforward, facts-only reporting? Then find an outlet that presents the news that way and give them your business. Do you want a healthy mix of positive stories in with the negative? Then do some research, find an outlet known for that and show them your support.
Of course there are bad journalists out there, just like there are people in every field who do a poor job, but if we challenge ourselves to see things from other perspectives, vote with our dollars for media outlets who do the job well, and believe the best of those trying to bring us the news everyday, I think we can fix the issue we are currently dealing with when it comes to the media in America.
Journalists are not your enemies. We all have areas of improvement to work on, so let's cut the scapegoating and fix this mess.