What are the extremes before change comes?


It’s third-grade history class.  One of the boys raises his hand and asks why the news always reports on bad things, like people dying and buildings burning.

The teacher could have explained how humans are sick and twisted and how we’re mostly interested in negative “news values.” Instead, she told him to go make his own applause-worthy news.

That was my history class.  I never thought I’d be writing news stories 12 years later and learning about news values like timeliness, proximity and unusualness.

Apparently unusualness in 2015 means things like mass shootings and police brutality. According to the Washington Post, there have been 294 mass shootings in 2015, which is one nearly every eight days.

The most recent tragedy was at an Oregon community college that left nine people dead.  I know you’ve heard it already, but how many more of these events does the news have to cover before something changes?

Let me be clear, I am in no position to speak on either side of the gun control debate.  Because I’m the product of a conservative state trooper and pharmacist, I’m on the conservative side by default.

But what I want to talk about is the media’s role in all of this.  Allen Ginsburg, an American poet, said that whoever controls the media controls the culture.

Let’s apply that for a minute.  If you’re subject to seeing reports of shootings and the outcry is that America needs stricter gun control, you’re going to start to agree with this side.

In time, you’ve become subject to the fallacy of appeal to the crowd when the media use emotionally one-ended stories and cover the testimonies of victim’s families, albeit deserved.

Another thing we’re accustomed to hearing is that all news stations are biased.

However, most stations do make an effort to report on all sides of a story.  I went to a talk given by a CBS correspondent last year where he explained that it can be a pain in the ass on both ends to get all the sides covered.  Getting them to talk is another matter.

Constituents can refuse to comment to save face, and we’re left with half a story, sometimes unbeknownst to us.  So what does this mean?

Not only could we be watching biased news, we’re watching stories quite possibly blown out of proportion.

Another point the CBS representative stressed was that stations have to look for stories that attract viewers. Unfortunately, that goes back to the unusualness factor.

Viewers love seeing shock factor stories like the Oregon shooting.  And since Americans are an empathetic people, we find that poor mental health is often a burden of the shooter.

After two years of biology courses, I understand that this is indeed a reason for people to spiral downward.  We do need greater support and advocacy for mental health, starting with the media.

I’m not asking for censorship.  There is plenty of that.  The media need to consider what kind of impression they’re giving their viewer populations by covering violent stories and the trials for weeks at a time.

On one end, it looks glorified to the types of people who want to shoot up a school and horrific to the other.  We have a troubled patron at the pharmacy who calls us in a panic every time she sees a shooting on TV.

My real question remains, how many more of these stories need to be told before things change?



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