There was a time when a thing called “journalistic integrity” existed. It was a time when news outlets – both television and print – would choose which stories to tell. Because they had a world’s worth of tales and information, they could pick and choose what stories were “news worthy.” Today media outlets don’t have that luxury because of things like 24-hour news networks and online news sources. Information exchanges so quickly, and there is so much time to fill, that there simply is no reason to examine the value of one story over the other. It is easier to simply tell them all, and/or to stretch stories to proportions the content can not accommodate.
More so, when there is a tragedy like a shooting, or a court case that grips national attention, the 24-hour outlets must compete with each other with “breaking news.” The thing is, new information in such instances doesn’t break very fast. This is why news networks repeatedly deliver the same information for hours on end.
News is fact. News is reporting on fact when those facts arrive. News is NOT hearsay, expert testimony, or psycho-analysis of criminals. News is NOT reporting that new facts will eventually arrive. That is suspense. That, by all definition, is showmanship. It is not news. It is a bastardization of journalism.
And it will not change. We cannot take away Freedom of the Press. It is a backbone of American values. I would never even suggest that we entertain the notion of abolishing that freedom. But, I do think, as thoughtful citizens, we should appeal to better taste, a call to the return of dignified American reporting.
Consider: if we choose to succumb to a certain brand of stories, the media is obliged to deliver. If, however, we ignore the grotesque and the trivial, the low-brow and the pointless, and instead turn our attention to more thoughtful and mindful journalism, the media will be forced to reform. As is, our media – an institution currently swollen with exaggeration, factual scraps, and editorial – makes celebrities of morons and killers because we pay them mind. It used to be that only those that deserved attention got attention (re: those with talent or something worthwhile to say).
The bottom line is this: we can no longer simply blame the media and hope it changes. We must admit that the state of our media is our own doing, and that it is within our power to force the hand of good reporting by ignoring that which is horrific (not in terms of content, but in terms of taste) and by avoiding that which is bloated and sensationalized. It is our duty to turn our backs on the monster we’ve created and to give our attention to media that reports in only a true and straight manner, with integrity and the absence of theatrics.