Ok, so you read the title, and maybe are feeling a little bit inflamed. That’s why I want to preface this article before I get into my main opinions. The journalism, the media, and news organizations are essential to society. I love what they do and depend on them every day for their content. However, there is one habit the mainstream media has that I don’t appreciate. I understand why they do it, I understand why they may not realize its effects, and I understand why it may be hard to stop, but that doesn’t mean it’s right. In this article, I’m going to break down how the media reports, and the problems associated with it. Let’s get started.
One of the most important things to understand about news organizations is that due to the nature of their industry, they need to go for ratings. That could be in the form of clicks, views, or retweets, but their goal is to have as many people engaged as possible. There are two ways to go up in ratings; make everything as current and exciting as possible, or make things interesting and worthwhile. In my opinion, most large, mainstream channels focus on the first style. It’s all about having “breaking news” or a “bombshell report.” And because of that, everything needs to be released as soon as possible. But some smaller news organizations are executing a different method of reporting.
One great example of a someone mostly doing this is Vox, a company launched in 2014 dedicated to “explaining the news” As their site says “We live in a world of too much information and too little context.” Their goal is to address the problems with news. On their website, there is a section for current, hard news, but the rest is almost 100% editorial or feature. I also enjoy their YouTube channel, especially the show by Carlos Maza called “Strikethrough.” In his show, Maza breaks down how mainstream news handles big stories, like Charlottesville. In this episode, he talks about extremism and specifically Antifa. He goes in depth about how when news focuses on extremism in a protest, the forget important things, like the vast majority of people that did nothing wrong, and were just trying to get a message across.
So here’s what I’m getting at. Let’s take Charlottesville, and Trump’s response. Most liberal media is going to pour over the fact that he blamed both sides when only one side killed someone. “How could both sides be equal?” they will say. Meanwhile, most conservative news sources are going to applaud Trump, saying he made a good point in his speech, and that both sides do deserve blame. This coverage is an example of news organizations trying to accomplish the two ways to increase ratings (making things sensational and interesting) at the same time. But they only get the sensational piece. What sensationalization does is deepen political divides, and treat the fact that someone was killed like a side effect of the actual problems.
The problem here is not the story. In fact, I agree with both the liberal and conservative interpretations in this case. The problem is context. No longer is saying what’s happening good enough. Now, the more important story is what’s the big picture, and why should you care. I think my ACLU story does a pretty good job of this last part, and I think if more mainstream media were like that, people would be not only more engaged, but also more educated, and that might just be the fix our country needs.
So in short, when the media tells the 5 ‘W’s and the ‘H’ of the story, often they describe what went on, but don’t explain to us it’s significance or context. They sensationalize things which in the case of extremist groups encourages them to continue what they are doing and normalize things that need more context. I would strongly encourage all readers to check out the Strikethrough show. It is liberal biased, but overall the episodes are fast and understandable, while also going really in depth. They leave you with a much better understanding of the importance of lots of events.
UPDATE 10/19: The one and only @realDonaldTrump tweeted that the FCC should challenge the licenses of major organizations like NBC for “fake news.” I believe this violates the first amendment. He has the right to criticize the media, but not to restrict their voice. I may or may not do an article on this in the future, we shall see.