Apr 25, 2013

News Speculation

It's something I've wearily come to expect from big-time news agencies: speculation. One glance at the webpage of CNN and I am soon overflowing with rumors, conspiratorial notions and half-truths. Yet, the public eats this up. Ratings soar and soon there is nothing stopping 24-hour coverage of an event where you can usually glean all the facts in less than 15 minutes. I see this obsessive attitude toward news production as shallow and unbecoming of news agencies. There is, after all, more going on in the world that deserves just as much attention. I'm sure news agencies understand this, but somewhere between trying to provide balanced reports and sating the public's curiosity, something has gone wrong. 

Since beginning to work for the news industry, I have increasingly found myself thinking about the public's demand for news, how the media meets that demand, and what makes better news. I have very few answers and my opinions are, by comparison, underdeveloped. I would most likely appear to a professional reporter as charmingly overeager, but incorrect in thinking my ideas could hold water toward such a universal concept as news dissemination. I suppose that's what I would get for being 20 years old. However, I don't think it takes an advanced degree to recognize problems with what the world is giving us in terms of news.

I left work on Monday, April 15, and decided to take a break before another newspaper engagement. I got in my vehicle, drove away, and tuned in National Public Radio. I felt a very strange feeling in my gut as I suddenly was made aware of the bombings. I pulled off the road at my destination and sat in the vehicle for several minutes listening to the reports. I began to remember how I had felt when the shootings in Newtown and Aurora occurred. I felt bad, but I was also, depressingly, not surprised such an act had been committed. 

When disaster occurs, we want to know everything about it. We cling to these news reports with strange fascination. It pains us to hear what happened, but we can't tear ourselves away. Maybe the anchor's voice helps in cathartic healing and maybe we look for news messages, which will help us come to terms with what happened. If this is the case, I can understand why people would listen to anything reported on the subject. 

What occurred in Boston was horrific. I feel we should give considerable thought to domestic issues, but we should not let it blind us to what else is going on in the world. For example, on the same day as the Boston Marathon bombings, which when this column was submitted had killed three, at least 75 people were killed from bombings in Iraqi cities. Certainly, this is more important than understanding how the Boston bombs were built. 

Speculation ran rampant after the Boston bombings. Again, this is understandable since people desire to know the truth of the event. However, it was made clear early on that many details of the attacks couldn't be known yet. Why then were news agencies entertaining the "what if's" of the attack? What if it was al-Qaeda? What if the other bombs would have gone off? Understandably, traumatized individuals had enough on their plates with what happened. They needed more answers than questions and perhaps the best answers are the simple facts that are known at the time. 

Rumors do nothing but seed additional fear and contentious confusion. Some rumors, such as those surrounding the North Korea nuclear missiles, still are important in paying attention to.

I feel the public deserves news information free of speculation and journalistic overkill. Maybe I'm overly simplistic when it comes to just getting the facts and relevant information. Pardon me while I pick on CNN again, but do I really need to know anything about Jodi Arias? 

I was heartened by the great number of human interest stories which surfaced after the bombings. There were many stories of heroism and kindness. The news doesn't always have to be drab and down-in-the-dumps. It just has to be true. 

The other side of this journalistic mess is the public demand for it. We, the people, can choose what news to consume and don't kid yourself that all news is created equal. The Iraq bombings received the typical one-day of news coverage, and then it was on to another hour of discussion on the latest rumor, or worse, celebrity news. 

We need to hold journalists accountable to report on our highest priorities. If the public demands irrelevant news, our understanding of the world around us may just as well be irrelevant as well.

This post was originally published as a column for the Bluff Country Newspaper Group in the Apr. 22 issue of the Bluff Country Reader

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