I know I am not alone as a journalism student in saying that I am hesitant about mass media today. Lectures and classes make the underlying details about the journalistic process and ethics very straightforward, but in the real world, it seems like those ideas are tossed aside.
What we should be striving for within the media industry is the exact opposite of what we do to appeal to audiences looking for a catchy headline or Buzzfeed-type article. Readers and viewers like simple answers. We like ideas that make sense. We like being presented stories that provoke strong emotions, good or bad.
And, as any other business in a capitalist society, news media caters to that. If reporters and newsrooms are trying so desperately to create content that is memorable, why is it that the public’s trust of the media is at record lows? Rather than seeking out news to educate ourselves, we avoid it like the plague, expecting information that is either ridiculously wrong or exaggerated to the point of busting out key phrases known to invoke emotion or action.
Yes, media always has been and always will be biased. Humans are working behind the scenes to produce content, and inevitably, either on individual or group level, some sort of bias will skew what facts you focus and pick out, what the headline will read, and every other little detail. But just like every other aspect of life, media has become extremely polarized. Moderate news platforms are rare. People readily know on what side certain newspapers and websites fall, and psychologically, we choose to read what agrees with our own mindset and views. We get one side of story by choice and by convenience, since what comes up as top results on a simple Google search are the resources that we gravitate to.
Whether you care about journalism or not, it’s crucial that we as consumers can analyze what we’re seeing. I think just with the distrust in news these days, the skills are that more evident, or we’re just more paranoid about everything, which is again a product of persuasive media. But if we want to be educated about what’s happening in our world, we should be able to rely on media. Once we step out of a traditional classroom setting, it’s how we stay informed. From a consumer level, all we can do is to consciously choose a well-rounded mix of news outlets.
The news industry itself needs an update. The people distrust news for a reason. It oversimplifies a complicated world. It chooses quantity over quality, especially when it comes to global issues. It overstimulates people to the point that it causes more harm than good when solving our problems. If we fail to dig deep into current events, we get surface-level information without truly understanding what is going on. As the TED Talk that inspired this post points out, we see the devastation going on in Syria, but how many of us actually know why this happened? What individuals are doing right now? Stories that typically get pushed aside to instead produce the big picture, a picture missing its value of a thousand words, silenced by favorable, flashier slogans. Rather than hearing more information about Syria, we get the same exact story over and over again.
We need to put aside a capitalistic mentality that the more varied content we can produce in a short amount of time, the better off we are. Instead, we need to gain back principles that realize the implications and potential consequences, positive and negative, that come from media. How a viral story can actually hinder progress and leave us in a fog of inaccuracy. We must find a value in specialization, outlets that instead focus deeply into one branch of information rather try to tackle it all. That’s when we get sloppy.
No matter how simple we try to make things, the world is insanely complex. The world is not meant to be summarized into a few words. We cannot expect to read a punchy headline and expect to understand everything. That’s when we leave behind key information. Even in an international relations class, a speaker came in talking about how many events in the Middle East that on a large global scale made absolutely no sense were actually resulting from individual and domestic factors at play. We forget about the humanity behind big issues and decisions. We try to fit everything into a simplistic mold of what the world looks like but overlook all the little crevices.
I want to avoid politics here, but when it comes to the Trump administration’s response to media coverage, I’m tethering on a line between “You cannot avoid the facts” and “What really is factual anymore?” Reporters are just people who watch or listen to the same thing and end up with entirely different interpretations. That occurrence will always happen. Except now we play off of that occurrence so much to bring in polarized audiences, and it just fuels the fire and exaggerates the divide in ideologies. Rather than trying to solve a societal problem, media is strengthening it.
I don’t know if I’ll be fully immersed in journalism in the future, but for the sake of the industry, it must reevaluate the direction it’s heading, coming down to individual decisions by executives and reporters. What kind of values are we trying to promote? Downsizing work forces to cover as much ground as possible, or maintaining integrity and high-quality, accurate, complex information?
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie