No Solution in Sensationalism

I like to believe there was a time when journalism was journalism: when actual facts were checked with reputable references, not just some guy on Twitter who may or may not have fabricated a document. A time when newspapers and magazines sold because they contained pertinent information and facts that allowed the reader to form an educated opinion. I want to believe this, because this certainly is not the case in today’s world of “journalism.” We live in a time with an endless supply of media outlets constantly rushing to be the first to cover a story and in this rush, facts are lost and misrepresented – sometimes knowingly (Syria or Yemen anyone?). No longer can a media program survive on a channel, bolstered by programs of entertainment; instead a reporter must sell a story and garner their own ratings. A story must catch the viewers attention in the seconds it takes to flip to the next channel. A writer must convince the reader to click and follow along from a title and half a by-line. No longer are they reporters, but story tellers.

Journalism has turned into sensationalism. Every mainstream piece of media that trends on Twitter or Facebook or cycles through CNN, MSNBC, FOX, every single piece is sensationalized. They do not present facts, they confirm biases. They affirm their audiences belief. Unfortunately, if they want to stay alive, they must. But in the long run, who does this help? Surely it does not help the people who could do with learning just the facts before making a decision. Rather, it helps the media outlets. In a world where people are more concerned about one of the Kardashian’s butt implants, the latest celebrity to land in rehab, or the most recent football player to beat his girlfriend, we are drawn to drama and extreme emotions and the media devours us alive. It sells us sensationalized non-facts.

Consider the recent events in Parkland, Florida. All of social media was in an uproar a week later, not over the safety of children at school and how to resolve that issue, but over gun control. Why? Because that is a polarizing issue that can sell ad space and generate clicks. Is anyone going to argue that killing children is a good thing? Probably not. But what is something we can argue about? The Second Amendment. So that is what the media fires up; a story that will either outrage us, or confirm our already cemented beliefs. There is no more fair and balanced journalism. Everything has a side. It is the only way to sell. Let’s face it, no one is swayed because of a half-truth article CNN pushes out about how bad an AR is. (Consider AR stands for ArmaLite, the company who popularized the typical AR look. Also consider that by the US Army’s definition, the AR-15

So if someone shoots me with a handgun, it won’t hurt as much?

is not an assault rifle.) The people who are already anti-second amendment are cemented in those beliefs and the folks who are pro-second amendment are cemented in their beliefs. Both sides present “facts” about school shootings and gun violence and back those facts up with statistics from one source or another, but more often than not, these facts completely contradict each other, so who is wrong? In a rational world, we could have that discussion. We could debate openly about what these statistics mean and what information is faulty, but we are not rational. We are immediate. We are right. We are sensationalized.

If we could step back and look at things with perspective, we would realize that while shootings are not a good thing, there are other things going on with our children that are much worse. Consider that, according to the CDC, in 2015, 2,333 16-19 year old teens died in automobile accidents and another 200,000+ went to the emergency room. That breaks down to six teens per day, and that’s only 16-19 year olds! Now consider that 300 K-12 students have been killed in school since 1980. Understandably, no one wants their children to die, and certainly not at school, a place you are, to a degree, compelled to send your children, but at the same time, you cannot even compare those numbers. There are certainly much more dangerous things we allow our children to do every day, that we do not even blink at.

So why the outrage? Shootings impact a single community much more so than a car accident; when one community looses a member it grieves, but the more individuals a community looses to a single event, the higher the level of grief as more families are directly impacted. But let us look at it from the media’s perspective: who cares about a car accident? Is there any debate over whether or not we should use cars? Does anyone really proclaim that drunk driving is a good thing? Do we battle over what age teens should be allowed to drive? Or speed limits? Is the nation going to watch a piece about a car wreck in some no-name town? No! Cars are common place. Virtually everyone uses them or has knowledge how to use them. We grow up learning how to use them by watching adults model appropriate driving skills; we even learn how to use them in classroom settings. There is very little polarizing when it comes to cars (other than maybe emissions.) But guns, guns are different. Guns are not something everyone has. They are not objects everyone grows up learning to use as a part of life. We are convinced that only the criminal element needs guns. We are taught that guns are scary and should be feared. And that fear can be sensationalized. That fear can be sold.

Imagine what would happen if the media presented unbiased facts? Imagine if they helped create a discourse around safety in schools instead of polarizing the people and spreading propagandist half-truths as facts. It might not get the Tide-Pod-Eaters attention, but certainly it would help society a bit. So what do we do? Consider the opinions of others, consider their points. It is important for us all to realize that we are not right about everything; that our opinions are just that: opinions. To hold so tightly to our own opinions and belief structure that there is no room for others is sheer idiocy. The only way to advance as a society is to learn from the experiences of other people and try to understand them, to understand that our personal experiences do not apply to everyone. Believe it or not, the media and the pundits do not have the answers. They are not experts; they do not even know the facts. What they do know is how to sell a story and unfortunately, that story passes as news.

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