Friday, July 6, 2012

We Get the News We Ask For

Sick of the same old stuff on the news?  Admit it, most of what we see or read, even from so-called serious news sources, is pretty lightweight.  We get fluff about celebrities:  who got married, who got divorced, what Pippa was seen wearing.  We find celebrity gossip attractive because the alternative is bad news.  Who wants to come home from a hard day at work to hear stories about gruesome murders, destructive weather events, economic problems, or civil wars and suicide bombings in foreign countries?

We get results of surveys telling us what we are worried about now and what we should worry about next.  For example, earlier this year they told us that the “strife between rich and poor people is now seen as a bigger issue than other social conflicts, including conflict between immigrants and native-born Americans and tension between black and white Americans” not because of some major shift in attitudes, but because we kept hearing about it, specifically news coverage of the Occupy movement.  As that has run its course, our biggest concern moves on to something new.

Instead of covering hard news in depth, the media use emotion-laden words such as strife, crisis, epidemic and conflict to get our attention.  Pictures and videos emphasize the fear and destruction.  At the fires and floods, instead of telling us the extent of the damage or other “boring” statistics, they interview victims – “How did you feel when your house blew away?”  The human interest touches us deeply and keeps us tuning in, rather than giving us any concrete information.  We come away feeling anything but confident about the future of America.  Then other surveys tell us that the majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

But the news we get is the news we react to by tuning in or clicking on web pages.  Horror, tragedy, Hollywood gossip, cute stories about bears roaming in subdivisions, all the gory details of the Cruise/Holmes divorce and the latest amateur video gone viral are what catch our attention.  We see them over and over, not only on the lightweight magazine-type programs, but also the national news.  Serious, thoughtful reporting is rare.

Networks choose their stories, redo their sets and shuffle or fire their presenters based on appearance and popularity.  Can’t we understand how superficial this is?  Can’t we recognize how the lack of depth in the news reflects our reactions based on our lack of perspective, allowing the superficial to crowd out the substantive?  Everyone in the media caters to our wishes as shown by how we spend our time and our money.  We get exactly what we ask for, and what we are getting today tells us more about ourselves than about what's going on in the world.

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