Saturday, April 21, 2007

Feeding the Beast

I am consistently amazed at the lengths (and depths) to which the news media will go in pursuit of a story. In recent days we’ve seen several big stories, and great tragedies. While my heart goes out to those families touched by the events at Virginia Tech and NASA’s Johnson Space Center (story) in Houston. I can’t help but notice the ways in which many of our nation’s news outlets have injected themselves into the news.

Sadly, it seems that the news industry is willing to do anything to get “the big story” and that includes making stories happen. Please do not misunderstand me; I’m not advocating conspiracy theories or anything like that. Here’s an example of how the news organizations themselves are in the news. Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui sent a package to NBC. This package included video footage of him expressing his viewpoints and murderous intentions. Of course NBC dutifully aired the video. As a result of their choice to do so several families of the victims opted not to appear on the network (story).

Whether they should have done it or not is still a matter that is up for debate. Obviously NBC and other major media outlets believed they had a “journalistic obligation” to air the footage. The question that ought to be asked is, “where should the line be drawn?” How far can the news go before they cease to be informing the people, and start ruining lives?

There are some cases that have been in the news that I thought would ruin my life. The Anna Nicole Smith ordeal, you’ll recall dominated the 24 hour news networks for what seemed an eternity. I watched for a while, hoping that some other news would knock the fight to be her baby’s daddy off the news, but in the end I boycotted the 24-hour news networks for a few weeks.

There are countless stories of how the news organizations themselves have sought to be the story rather than simply reporting the stories. Here’s another example: Don Imus. I seriously doubt that he would have been fired had someone not decided that his gaffe was worthy of “top story” status. Once the pack of ravenous wolves that is the news media jumped on him, he was done for.

Here’s the bottom line – the news media is a ravenous beast that either finds or creates news to feed itself. Professional journalism in America today has become a machine that devours anything remotely tragic or sensational, even to the point of making it so for the sake of the story. In the process the news machine uses, chews up, and spits out those whom it exploits for the sake of getting “the story.”

Would we be better off without 24-hour, up-to-the-second, coverage of the “news?” You decide.

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