That’s something celebrities say. I am not a celebrity (in case you were confused).
It’s just also how I feel about the media. I mean, I watch the news regularly. I often start my morning with local news, the Today Show or Good Morning America. Sometimes I listen to NPR on the way to work. Facebook and Twitter usually turn out to be good sources for things that are going on throughout the day. Jason and I usually watch the local news before we go to bed. I have websites that I check when I know something big is going on, I subscribe to a couple of news podcasts, I like to talk to people about current events. I follow and read several blogs that deal with current events and politics. I listen to our local AM station when I’m home with Jason and he gets to choose what we’ll be listening to all day. With wall to wall news coverage and a myriad of print and digital sources, it’s easy to ingest a whole lot of stuff.
I think this love for what’s going on goes back to a required semester of a class simply called “Current Events” in high school. We each got a subscription to “Newsweek”, a daily newspaper, and watched news programs almost daily. We had to write reports on things that were going on and take tests and quizzes about the news. Until that class, I think I was probably like a lot of teenagers who don’t really care about the news unless it’s gossipy.
Which brings me to this: I don’t watch the news tabloids and I only buy “People” or “US” if I’m in serious need of mindless entertainment (like when on vacation on the beach). However, in the interest of honesty, I do have one gossip site bookmarked (“The Wrap”) and I follow Perez Hilton on Twitter–and I can’t believe I actually admitted that.
But here’s the thing: the media makes me so mad so often. The other day, my friend Nibby posted: “You can tell it’s TV Ratings week! Sensational news starts to appear!” with a link to a story on a local news website about facebook addiction (as if!). He’s right! The news is teasing us with a lot of stories this week. This morning there was a commercial for an upcoming special report about keeping tabs on your kids without them knowing about it. Stories about teen and child safety are always big ratings winners. Adam McClane posted a story about how selling a teen news story that captured this perfectly. If you pay attention, you realize that a lot of news stories are just recycled. This is a pretty common trick in magazines, too. You could pick up a stack of women’s magazines from the 90s and you’re probably going to learn a lot of the same things that are in the current issues.
The media also causes a lot of the problems they are reporting. For example, earlier this week, a local media outlet ran a story about a college website that is an “anonymous confession booth.” They were on the campus of my alma mater, because the University of Evansville has an ACB page. They were interviewing students about it (many of them claimed they had never even heard about it), showing some scandalous posts from the site and basically trying to convince us that this was a bad thing happening on our campuses. One of the young ladies they interviewed summed up exactly what I was thinking was true: “I’ve never heard about it…but now I’ll probably go check it out.” I imagine UE’s ACB page had a lot more traffic that night. Several months back, the Today Show reported on a food shortage and suggested that people were hoarding staple foods because they were afraid we would run out. All of a sudden, thousands of otherwise well fed Americans with well-stocked cabinets started to hoard rice.
It’s true, sometimes the media does accomplish things. The media draws attention to issues that would otherwise be forgotten or unreported (child trafficking, Darfur, deadly floor mats and accelerators in a certain company’s vehicles), but it’s also disturbing how the media will pick and choose stories to report, and as stories get old they are simply phased out. There are many important stories we don’t hear unless we dig for them because they simply are not exciting enough.
We also have to be careful because a lot of us are gullible and many outlets will take advantage of this. We believe everything we hear or read and this is dangerous. Too often friends will forward me an email that contains a story that is entirely false or entirely skewed. People will post warnings they’ve read or heard about without actually fact checking them. Some people only get their news from one source or one channel. We can’t be ignorant that none of the media outlets are entirely fair, unbiased and balanced. As we watch and take in stories, we can’t set aside our common sense.
And so, I have this love/hate relationship. I go back and forth between gratitude to the media and disdain for what I feel are manipulative tactics.
What do you think? How do you get your news? What do you think about bias and sensationalism in our media?