Every time we look to a news station for information on the world around us, we are beset on all sides by the grisly details of mass murders, bombings, natural disasters, riots, and politics. Rioters seem to take to the streets as often as possible, and scandal after scandal throws the world into an uproar. If I had no contact with the outside world other than these media sources, I would take one look and jump for the nearest armored bunker. With as much anger and outright hate that is showcased, it is a wonder society has not taken a dystopian turn.
More and more, coverage on the news channels tends to select sensation. Stations choose the big story, the dirty scoop that will have people shocked and impacted. They want people to have to come to them for the facts, to drink in every minor detail. They curate the news to what they think the people want: despair.
Unfortunately, this means that the stations need to keep it interesting. They need to constantly one-up themselves and each other in an attempt to keep people coming back for more. No longer can the anchors be content with a big story, they must have the biggest. Scary stories are glossed over in favor of the truly terrifying. They look forward to the next jaw-dropping scandal just to boost viewers. That, in and of itself, is concerning.
When the Hillary Clinton’s email scandal first entered the spotlight on March 2nd, 2015, it was the star of every single news channel in America and quite a few abroad. The country was sent reeling. Many believed that Hillary had jeopardize the safety of the United States along with the lives of American citizens by allowing classified emails on her private server.
The coverage was insane with many experts predicting massive problems, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee even went so far as to use the word treason. When the FBI released their report July 5th, 2016, however, it in no way lived up to the amount of time that was devoted to it. Her use of a private server was definitely wrong, but it was not nearly as catastrophic as it seemed at the time. The news sites catered to the hunger for political scandal, for “dirt” on one of the two presidential candidates.
24 hours of news, 24 hours of scandal, and 24 hours of fear: this is what these stations promise to their devoted viewers. Every single second of every minor detail is played out on live television. The news stations claim to have all the coverage there is, a claim that is easily believed with the amount of content.
But when did this 24-hour style become so commonplace? What caused the dramatic change from nightly news and newspapers to all news all the time? Like many trends it seems that it started as a few drops, picked up speed into a small stream, then turned into a deluge.
Beginning on Sunday, June 1, 1980 at 5:00 p.m., CNN became the first station to adopt the 24-hour news cycle. Most could not fathom what a news station could possibly find to talk about for an entire day, every day. The man behind this new idea, Ted Turner, ignored fears over lack of content and bulldozed his way to the launch.
Other stations waited until a set time for the news (morning or evening or both) and some only had a thirty-minute broadcast, but CNN decided it would report on events in real-time. This new style began to prove itself on October 14th, 1987 when an 18-month-old baby fell into a well and CNN was there. The rescue took 58 hours and each and every one of them was covered by a CNN camera.
Still, the station did not gain acceptance with the other, more reputable, news networks. Stations like ABC looked down on this upstart, knowing that so much time would stretch their news stories thin. It wasn’t until the Gulf War that the station was looked at with anything other than contempt. Reporting instantaneously from the front lines, reporters put themselves in harm’s way for their viewership. The night Desert Storm began, three reporters were actually in Baghdad as the bombs fell.
What the reporters did for their network during wartime was admirable and granted them the acceptance they needed to step to the forefront of news as we know it. But, eventually, the constant flow of newsworthy events and video dried up. They needed stories if they wanted to keep the millions watching and their financial backers firmly in place.
This constant grind for content means that subject matter that would normally be taken on face value is looked over with a magnifying glass. Any minute detail is yanked from the shadows and displayed for the world to see. Instead of discussing and talking for the sake of understanding, experts and anchors peel apart every layer looking for something that most people would find odd, disturbing, or threatening. They aren’t speaking to inform, just digging for something intriguing enough to keep viewers.
Recently, the body of a man buried in the 13th century was brought into the public eye. Scientists have used a computer to digitally reconstruct his face and features. This technique was used to find out more about what life was like back then for the more impoverished people. The story itself is something that is news, the problem here is that the article boasts the title, “Meet a 700-year-old man,” which is quite misleading. The heading is deliberately vague as to necessitate further review which increases the traffic on the site, further inflating advertising revenue.
The need for constant content is a phenomenon that has affected politicians as well as journalists. Political coverage has become a series of witch hunts. Imagine running for office and having your whole life put up for someone to see. How many embarrassing moments do you have? How many times have you done something that you regret, that you aren’t proud of?
If politics is war then news channels are arms dealers. But the ammunition isn’t always relevant to the work of governing. When Melania Trump’s face dropped during the most recent inauguration, stations were quick splash the video on every surface. News websites like nydailynews.com leapt forward to loop the video with funny music and imply that because she wasn’t smiling for a minute, she hates the president. Maybe she does. Maybe she doesn’t. The only sure thing is that you can’t tell from one single moment.
Fluff pieces are yet another way that these stations keep their channel going long after all notable news has been reported. Different channels have different styles of how to keep their audience entertained. Some opt to talk about fashion. But how relevant is the First Lady’s dinner gown when weighed against his economic policies? Some look to the local area to report on different random happenings. Most is not strictly news, but something must be found to fill the time.
Facebook is a new entity that has entered the media fray. At first the ability the site gave to share news articles seemed convenient. Any information could be relayed with the click of a button. Recently, though, the fake news that makes it around social media has been blamed for possibly swaying the outcome of the 2016 election. Millions of people read an article that stated that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump in the most recent presidential election. It wasn’t true. Millions shared the article without even reading the section on the website that describes itself as “satire or pure fantasy.” This site got millions of views. Imagine the damage that other sites could do, those that have no such label.
Facebook did little to clean up their site originally, at first even denying the problem existed. Founder, Mark Zuckerberg, released a statement on November 10th, 2016 that said that people voting the way they did because of fake news was a “crazy idea.” Nine days later, he created a Facebook post detailing seven ways that Facebook was going to tackle the issue
The news on Facebook can come from anywhere, and some sources are not exactly the bastion of journalistic integrity. Anyone can go onto the internet and say anything that they want with few repercussions. One website claimed that “Obama Sign[ed] Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide” which he most certainly did not. Despite the ease of which this information could be checked, the article was shared over 2,000,000 times. No one is held accountable for what they share on Facebook. Social media has become one of enablers.
Even if there are no actual in-depth studies or research, the public can be whipped into a frenzy on half-truths and outright falsehoods.
The content and lack of accountability from the news channels and online sites is a threat to the public. Both of these sources are no longer producing their content with as much care as they should, opting for speed rather than faultlessness. Policing the content is not a priority either, though perhaps the public must also take their share of the blame.
A better system with more checks needs to be found. When scientists publish a discovery, their peers do their best to ensure that it is accurate. Even our government has checks on its power for what the different branches can and cannot do.
Perhaps an ethics board needs to be created for all the major channels. The 24-hour cycle should give more time to fact check, not perpetuate the need to get everything out there immediately.
The final presidential debate had a CNN team go in and fact check everything each of the candidates said with some thorough research. This process should not be set aside for these special occasions, but rather remain as a staple.
We as a nation need to change our perspective on how we consume our media. No longer can we trust everything that we see and rely on journalistic integrity. The rise of the internet and more media outlets coupled with frequent hacking has made it too easy for some to flood the market with things that have no place there. No longer knowing exactly where to draw the line between news and opinion is just one way that the 24-hour news cycle has failed us. There will be no change in government without a movement, just as there will be no change in the system without public outcry.
The next time you see an article on Facebook, take the time to actually read it and verify the sources before you share it. Don’t just trust any claims made by a news outlet, take the initiative and do some research. When something doesn’t sound true, don’t propagate the cycle by spewing the information to all of your friends and colleagues. Let’s switch it up this coming year and keep our news relevant and informative. Maybe we’ll actually learn something.