When I was in college, I took some journalism classes (that’s kind of a requirement at Syracuse) and I was taught that journalists are responsible for the fair and accurate reporting of the news. Journalism was a noble profession. And the evening news anchors were able to separate their personal opinions from the facts of the day.
These days we live in a world where journalists are unable to separate fact from opinion. As a matter of fact, our world discourages that separation, instead fostering the opportunity for journalists to become pundits and to embrace more sensational types of reporting. It’s the same environment that has fostered the expansion of fake news and made it very difficult for everyday people to separate reality TV from what’s real.
Just look at the news over the last six weeks. Our 24-hour news cycle is dominated by both right- and left-wing politics that speak down to those of us in the middle. We have “front line” reporters drawing what was obviously the short straw and being sent directly into Houston, Tampa and Miami to stand in 150 MPH winds and tell us the obvious fact that its windy and raining. We have sports reporters who are more obsessed with shock and awe and creating arguments than providing a fair and balanced approach (if you’re curious what I mean, watch Steven A. Smith on ESPN as he dukes it out with whatever unfortunate person is seated across the table from him).
All these tactics seem to be aiming more to create a sensationalistic approach to news in order to generate ratings than to report the news and give us the facts, allowing us to have our own opinions.
Is all of this the fault of news organizations? No. This is the product of choice. Consumers have have more competition for their severely fractured attention spans. Sensationalism sells. Excitement, panic and fear sells.
Our society is bombarded by such graphic imagery on a daily basis that the next person in line feels the need to be even crazier in order to get us to notice them.
I remember back in the old days, when Howard Stern was a “shock jock” on the radio and what he did and said seemed to push the boundaries of what was polite. I rarely hear about Howard Stern anymore — and I think that’s because he is rarely viewed in that way anymore. Stern is mainstream, and the fringes are even crazier than he ever was.
I guess my diatribe is not truly about journalists — at least, not them alone. It’s about the society that has spawned so many changes in the media and the resultant effect on us, the audience.
Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite simply wouldn’t get our attention anymore, regardless of what format of media they would be using. Our brains have become numb to the middle, and the extremes are all that can get us going. It’s how we ended up in a world that is basically run by a reality TV star and dominated by narcissistic characters in all forms.
In politics, in the news, on sports talk, and everywhere else – if there are facts to be reported or stories to be told, we need the most insane, out-of-the-box, panic-inducing delivery to break through our cluttered, hardened brains.
It bums me out because our reactions are also over-the-top. These stories and the ways they are delivered induce stress that our bodies were never wired to receive.
My recommendation for society? Unplug once in a while — from your devices and from the 24-hour news cycle. Embrace some normalcy and a conversation with the person right beside you. Read a book when you go to bed, and assume best intentions from the person sitting next to you, or across the table from you.
Now back to your regularly scheduled media onslaught.