Journalism or sensationalism? | The Triangle

Journalism or sensationalism?

Paul Keller: Flickr
Paul Keller: Flickr

It had been a brutal year-and-a-half of news coverage, filled to the brim with a constant, remorseless 24-hour stream of verbal diarrhea.

The stories were all equally outrageous. Donald Trump declaring his candidacy for president, preaching the building of a wall. Ben Carson insisting that an American president had to “reject the tenets of Islam.” Hillary Clinton swearing that she didn’t know that the “C” in her emails stood for “classified,” Bernie Sanders promising he would “break up the big banks,” but with no specific plan for how he would do it.

Yes, these people were grandstanding in order to get votes, but that is purely understandable. That is, after all, how getting elected works. Always has been and always will be.

What was different, however, was how the media constantly broke these stories. A barrage of shouting, constant uses of catchphrases that meant absolutely nothing (yes, I am looking at you, Kayleigh McEnany), and a sickeningly significant amount of coverage towards a man who, in a normal world, the average person would hardly give the time of day.

It was, to be frank, a purely exhaustive process to observe, especially as a first-time voter and an aspiring journalist.

Election night was very emotional for me. I was just about ready to turn off the television when I saw Van Jones suddenly interrupt. I would not realize until later that these words would have a profound impact on not just me, but the entire world.

“People have talked about a miracle, I’m hearing about a nightmare,” Jones had stated. “It’s hard to be a parent tonight for a lot of us. You tell your kids, ‘don’t be a bully.’ You tell your kids, ‘don’t be a bigot.’ You tell your kids, ‘do your homework and be prepared.’ And then you have this outcome and you have people putting children to bed tonight and they’re afraid of breakfast. They’re afraid of how will I explain this to my children. I have Muslim friends who are texting me tonight saying, ‘should I leave the country?’ I have families of immigrants that are terrified tonight.”

I couldn’t fall asleep that night.

There were two factors that had pushed me past my breaking point. First. was the election of a man who had done nothing but terrorize America’s minorities.

The second was thinking about what Jones had said during the election coverage. I didn’t understand why his words had stuck out at me the most of any other words spoken by the media during the election. As the sun came out over a changed nation, I finally understood why Van Jones’ statement made me restless.

For the first time in this election I was witnessing two things I thought I would never see: emotion and honesty. Passion for something that was not evil or unattainable. This was a message of peace. With every word Jones was speaking, you could feel the emotion and pain. This was a breath of fresh air. It was almost like watching Walter Cronkite report that President John F. Kennedy had been killed. You could see the emotion on his face, you could feel that he was tremendously upset.

As I slowly began to realize why this had gripped me, I began to wonder where all the honesty and integrity of the news had gone. Over the course of a few months, I realized that it had slowly begun to disappear, with only a precious few continuing on the legacies of the contemporaries such as Edward R. Murrow, Ernest Hemingway and Carl Bernstein. But why has it disappeared? Who’s to blame?

Well, part of the reason is, of course, the advent of 24-hour news. Networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC are running news all day, every day for 365 days a year.

A major drawback that makes the news a little bit more unbearable involves the airtime in which there is nothing new to report, where the time gets drawn out. Most networks fill in this time by drawing out news stories from a previous time and continuing an analysis of it.

We are currently living in a world in which news networks are focused more on ratings than reporting the stories that actually matter. For example, when toddler Caylee Anthony was murdered back in 2008, it became the top story.

Yes, the details of her murder were horrific, and bringing her killer to justice was important, but did you know that on the day that Caylee Anthony’s remains were found, there was a story breaking that proved to be even more important in the long-term?

The story was the arrest of former NASDAQ chairman Bernie Madoff, who would later be convicted on multiple counts of fraud, swindling away around $20 billion from thousands of people in the largest case of fraud in American history. This is just one of many examples of ratings coming in front of a story that became more important in the long term.

Despite that drawback, 24-hour news can be a very positive advent. Consider the olden days of broadcast news, let’s say, before 1980, when CNN was founded. You would have four news segments on all the major American networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc.), each segment airing at major times of the day (morning, lunchtime, dinnertime, late night).

Stories from each part of the day would make it into the broadcasts and you would know which story were the most important because it would make it into maybe two or more of these broadcasts. If there was a piece of breaking news too urgent to be passed up, the programming would be halted and the news would continue for as long as the story continued.

However, things have changed since then. We live in an interconnected world, one that demands that we know what happens as soon as it happens. A 24-hour news network allows for that to happen. When it’s a story that should be recognized, it’s automatically on the network. No unimportant news, no filters, just what’s important. In the ideal framework of 24-hour news, that is.

Despite this particular drawback, 24-hour news is still an amazing tool if used correctly. However, according to media events of the last 30 years or so, this still hasn’t been the case. Time and time again, we see a story grip the nation that gets over-covered. It gets too much attention when other stories could be much more important.

The trial of OJ Simpson, the controversy surrounding pieces of art such as “The Da Vinci Code”, Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency, all of them were over-covered. This hyper-coverage has created a clear bias within journalism to the point where trust in the media has reached an all-time low, with Gallup reporting that this year 32 percent of Americans trust media sources such as newspapers, television and radio.

This should not be happening.

The news should be the most reliable source of media there is. And yet many Americans do not trust the media. This is a very understandable viewpoint as we are living in America where we are being told by the media what to think. Instead of creating our own opinions based on the information given, the opinion is shoved straight down our gullet until we are completely suffocated by it. In short, the news isn’t being objective.

It would take a lot of effort to fix this issue based on how much journalism has constantly evolved over the last few decades.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but the one thing that newscasters are forgetting are that in order to have a fair and balanced opinion, forcing their views on someone is not the strongest way to go. Instead, it should be allowed for the public to come to their own conclusions, even if they don’t think the same thing as you.

To my colleagues in the field of journalism, let us all make an oath. We will serve as a translator between the governments and our people. Let us not sensationalize, let us not grandstand. Let us do what we were taught to do. Let’s give everyone the truth because at the very least, that’s what the people deserve.