Or, Why Do We Go Through This Every Year?
[This Commentary originally appeared in the January 3, 1991 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]
Just as certainly as Jack Frost nips at your nose, the end of the year brings forth a cavalcade of year-end summaries. These reviews highlight all the top news stories we have, for the most part, so fleetingly forgotten over the course of the past 12 months.
I refuse to retrace the recent year. If you want a year-end review, I suggest you read one of the major newsweeklies or tune into your favorite TV news show. I will, however, offer you something to think about as you recap the events of the last year.
Why have the memory of major events faded so terribly? What strange forces work against our better judgment not to repeat history? Why can’t the news media do a better job of providing real and important news in a format which we can easily and quickly digest? Finally, as the self-proclaimed watch dog of all that needs watching, doesn’t the news media have the responsibility to educate and enlighten?
Unfortunately, too many network executives and news magazine publishers treat news as nothing more than trash for the masses. Regrettably, the masses (at least according to the Nielson’s) respond more favorably to vacant rubbish than to substantive reporting. We see news trash all around us. For example, the news media recently featured Madonna (the singer, not the real one) and her MTV video as the lead or cover story. Whatever their political persuasion, most people believe George Bush will have a far greater influence on the history of our species than some publicity seeking flapper from Bay City, Michigan. Yet, news directors across the country apparently feel the Madonna story has greater merit than what may be George Bush’s final attempt to seek a peaceful solution to the Gulf Crisis.
But, to paraphrase a couple of old axioms, sex sells and history (or news) is bunk. Our fast ford society quickly grows bored with the same old stories – no matter how important they might be. Remote control zappers compel the news media to produce more than mere history. People want flash! They want zest! They want entertainment!
And so, the news business has become show business. We forget important events because the news media clutters our mind with Hollywood drivel. We quickly disregard the many ramifications of the Clean Air Bill as we receive expanded coverage of Millie’s next litter. (Remember, babies and puppies sell, too.)
Our society suffers from information overload. Ironically, we demand even greater amounts of information at an ever increasing rate. Case in point: The popularity of CNN and its round the clock news reporting (even when all the news has already been reported).
The news media claims the will of the masses leaves it no choice but to report trash. Handcuffed by ratings points and market share, they assert they merely provide to the public what the public wants. In this, they avow no responsibility for their product.
Yet, when it comes to revealing the sordid personal live of public notables or disclosing potentially life-threatening information, the media quickly invokes its first amendment privileges. Too often we see the press protecting a “confidential” source that can provide critical information to a public investigation.
This role assumes reporters know what’s best for the public. Simultaneously, as a business, the media maintains it is accountable only to the markets. If people buy its news, it must be reporting the right news.
Does this accountability mean the press provides education and enlightenment? No, by answering only to the market, the media must view itself as any other form of entertainment. So much for social responsibility.
If market forces truly drive the manner in which journalists present the news, then we must blame ourselves. We vote with our pocketbooks. We decide whether to purchase a trashy daily supermarket tabloid or subscribe to a monthly news journal.
We decide whether to ingest too much information to remember or to slow the pace down to get only the essential elements of the news. We decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater or to treat news as history and learn from it. In the end, we decide whether to be entertained or to be educated.
Ed. Note: The Carosa Commentary reflects the opinions of its author and in no way represents those of this newspaper or its management.
[What is this and why is here? See Interested in Discovering My Time Machine? for more details.]