Modern Media: Consume at Your Own Risk

Public opinion has always been a powerful tool.  Think about all of the ways public opinion has shaped the course of events in recent years.  Joe Paterno, a formerly beloved Penn State football coach, saw public opinion turn drastically against him during the Jerry Sandusky trial, which led to his firing.  More recently, Paula Deen admitted to using racial slurs and has since been dropped by almost all of her sponsors.  As this pertains to humanitarianism, many of us have already written about how the trendy scenario receives more aid money.  One would hope the INGOs would decide to go where they can help the most, not just where people currently are aware of.  The reason public opinion is so sporadic today is because of media and technology.

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The decline of journalism has been widely talked about in recent years.  The advent of 24/7 news networks has put strains on traditional reporting practices.  I interned with a PR firm and my boss, a former editor of a major newspaper, talked at length about the price of persistent news networks.  Granted, he may be biased; I wouldn’t be surprised if a print media editor had some contempt for the TV and internet based networks that contributed to his industry’s decline.  However, I still agree with much of what he said.  24/7 news outlets are great for obvious reasons: in an increasing connected world, it helps to be able to keep your viewership/readership informed about events as they happen in real time.  But what happens when there aren’t any significant events occurring?  Fluff.  Watch the news one and you’ll be able to see how much of what is being discussed is completely insignificant.  News Networks are business, though, and they know that boring fluff rarely produces decent ratings, so they polish this fluff with sensationalist headlines and hyperbole.  So what happens is this insignificant news story becomes a faux-event, which in turn waters down the real news.  For example, a Pew Study found that a “full 85% of the Comcast-owned network’s coverage can be classified as opinion or commentary rather than straight news” (Bercovici).  These include CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.  Basically, what you’re hearing on the news 85% of time isn’t reporting, it’s opinion. In fact, “31 percent have ditched a news outlet — be it a newspaper, magazine, or TV channel — for failing to measure up to the level of work they’ve grown accustomed to” in the past year (Welch).

 

This problem of opinion-presented-as-fact is exacerbated by the way most people currently use the media.  Instead of reading or watching the news to inform themselves, most consumers use the media to affirm their already formed opinions. “The idea that media consumers may tune into news that supports their opinions is illustrated by a study of viewers of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, who see the satirical comedian’s act as nodding toward their political beliefs — regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum. Liberals see his bombastic comments as a parody of conservative talk shows; conservatives see him making digs at liberalism.” Modern technology gives people the ability to easily find media they agree with and the ability to ignore the rest.  This age of enhanced communication should be marked by more informed consumers, yet this isn’t the case.

 

Public opinion has the power to drastically alter so many facets of modern life, but the way public opinion is now formed poses some problems.  Sensationalist, opinion based journalism combined with the closed-minded media consumption has deepened the political rift in American society.  People may have always perceived Fox News as conservative, but now many just see it as an extension of the Republican Party (likewise for MSNBC and the Democratic Party).  My main concern is that the media now has so much influence in shaping public opinion, how do we know that these “news” sources (that are mainly opinion-based) aren’t pushing political agendas?  Objectivity seems to be a modern media rarity.  I would never push for censorship of the media, but there needs to be a way to bridge the gap between differing opinions.  If a person hears the same opinion over and over, then they might eventually treat it as fact.

 

 

Bercovici, Jeff. Pew Study Finds MSNBC the Most Opinionated Cable News Channel By Far.  Forbes. 3/18/2013. Web. 6/27/2013.

Best, Elizabeth. The Age of Affirmation.  Pacific Standard. January 21, 2010. Web. June 27, 2013.

Welch, Chris.Quality to blame for declining news audiences, study suggests. The Verge. March 18, 2013. Web. June 27, 2013.

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