What is the role of the media today?

Before writing this essay, I found myself increasingly distraught and uncomfortable with the American media, including television news networks like MSNBC, CBS, ABC, and 24/7 news channels like Fox News and CNN. I tune in daily to news programs to learn about the most urgent and necessary news stories of the day. Most of the time they fit into a 30 min program, which is only around 20 minutes without the commercial breaks.  For all intensive purposes, I will refer to the media as news reporting through the internet, radio, magazine, newspapers, and television. Although the world wide web has taken education and information gathering to another level, a huge majority are influenced by the news reporting of the major 5 networks I have listed. This is a critique of news reporting that repeatedly numbs the audience to stories of violence, oppression, disease, war, genocide. Instead of empowering citizens, these stories lead them to an increased apathy, indifference, and a nihilism of a degrading civil society, including an increasing paranoia of strangers, terrorists, and youth culture.

First we must examine why do we have the media implemented in our society, and how the media should ideally function. The role of news reporting is of paramount importance in a democratic society. Acta Diurna was the first newspaper printed in 59 B.C. published in Rome. Newspapers have not always reported objectively, for most of American history papers were clearly and openly biased.  Newspapers which reported sensationalized stories were called “yellow journalism,” an attempt to gather more readership. We can all see the difference between tabloid newspapers, and newspapers which provide information to help us form a viewpoint on a given topic. Only till recently have newspapers tried to become objective news reporting.  In order for a democratic system to work, it’s citizens must be intelligent, mature, and well-informed to be able to make decisions on their own. One role of the media is to give the available information for the citizens to be part of the democratic process which includes checks and balances, holding people and organizations accountable for their actions. When the media acts as a whistle blower to human rights issues, the people are called to protest, and respond to injustices. If the media fails to equip the reader to respond to an injustice, it has failed to do it’s job. Secondly the media is called to education. Education entitles information that would be relevant and noteworthy to know in the 21st century, including local and world history, art, culture, public policy, business, fashion, people, etc. Also, it presents to people various viewpoints and opinions to choose from.

A prevalent problem is when the media transforms into it’s dark-gossipy cousin who dishes out the most irrelevant information, similar to the popular tabloids. Most of this is for pure entertainment purposes, instead of providing more noteworthy information that could actually improve one’s view of the human condition and culture. We all have heard too much of Kate Middleton’s life and the baby prince to do us much help. Such competition between other news sources and online media sources has caused the commercialization of the media. These stories only distract from the real stories of social injustice, poverty, and inequality.

A modern problem is the existence of an abundance of reporting and information. For example, when the media reports a litany of high profile murders and gun-violence, the societal consciousness believes that America’s crime rate is escalating. However, studies have show that America’s crime rate is plummeting, distorting our perception of society. Reporting on primarily negative circumstances drags the viewer into believing they world that they we are living in is on the brink of an apocalypse, and social upheaval. The news fails to account for the numerous good deeds, maybe because the human conscious is naturally attracted to tragedy, because somehow that has more priority to good news. Systems and procedures go right every day, and we often narrowly avoid disaster, yet they are not noteworthy. People do good deeds every day to random strangers, yet we hardly hear about them. Perhaps the media can find a better balance between positive news and negative finding both events as historically important.

Furthermore, not all news can be practical based on proximity, for example a murder several thousand miles away do not have an immediate effect on you, yet we are glued to the television set because Oscar Pistorius is a well-renown Olympic athlete.  What is important is seen in the eye of the beholder for the media, often web-trends on Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit now affect what the media can focus on. A debate raging on and on is what should be known and what should not be? For example, the American media tends to focus on Western news, particularly American news because primarily their audience is American. However, BBC focuses on World News from all different regions around the world, I have found their news to be more thought out and better news reporting. The idea of world news better shapes us to think of problems and issues on a global scale, and to think more as a global citizen, rather being only focused on one’s own country of municipality. A news source should not focus primarily on their own country, but others realizing the whole is interconnected.

As we watch news today we have to focus on how we digest information, and somehow utilize what we have watched to have a clear picture of the world around us. The news is not meant to crush our spirits, but empower us to be responsible, local, and global citizens, who can affect the world around us. News should help us develop a heart of empathy, and compassion towards those who suffer, and to be able to effect those situations in a concrete way. It is wrong to shy away from the media and live in a prehistoric age, instead we choose to be engaged.

What do you think about watching the news? How can the news be more helpful to the average citizen?

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