Saturday, 19 March 2011

It is a journalist's job to be

inaccurate and to sensationalise trivia. If you thought their role was to deliver the news please think again. Their role is to sell news. Inaccuracies sell. Trivia sells. "Human interest" sells. Other people's misfortune will, within limits, sell.
Facts do not sell - unless they are trivial facts. Most people do not want to read a serious analysis of an important issue. "Just give me the basic facts" they say, if they want to know at all. What they often mean is "give me the trivia" and "tell me what I want to hear".
Our state newspaper has already relegated the Japanese disaster to the inner pages. The front page today concerns a sportsman with cancer. I would not wish cancer on anyone but is this really front page news? Yes, for many it is.
There is also news about a car race which uses a city-street circuit. For some people this is a major sporting and social event. My own sister is involved each year. She is their consultant physiotherapist. I am strongly opposed to the entire event on environmental and safety grounds. The police say the way it is reported encourages young people in particular to "hoon" - or drive more foolishly than they already do.
The more serious news gets reported on the inner pages. Some people never get that far. Even if they do the reporting will be inaccurate. It will come second or third hand through AAP or Reuter's. They have already altered it to make it suitable for public consumption in the more serious newspapers of the world.
There are other news feeds which are available to small groups of people. I sometimes see items from them. What is said in them is often not suitable for public consumption. Indeed what is said in them should not be available for public consumption. Most people cannot handle that sort of news. They want it sanitised first.
They are not aware of this but it is what they expect. Even when our most serious news service says "graphic images" they are by no means the worst images and yet they will sensationalise the level of the damage of the nuclear plants in Japan to "catastrophic".
I do not believe this does anyone any favours. It does not help people understand what is actually occurring. It feeds an almost insatiable desire for "bad news about other people" and a sort of smugness that nothing has happened to us even while we believe we are empathising. We get "compassion fatigue". The words and images become meaningless.
So I will leave you with something. In amidst all the unbearable destruction in Japan imagine a tree. It has survived. It has the first hint of cherry blossom on it.


Rachel Fenton said...

You just highlighted many of the reasons why I don't read much press - and I have made a point of researching the bias of the press I do read and take this into consideration. Some people are addicted to misery because it makes their mediocre lives seem wonderfully blessed. Some people never feel blessed. Different strokes.

Anonymous said...

And we are blessed - very blessed. I love the thought of that image at the end. Small things! Chris