With the hysteria surrounding the Coronavirus, it is hard not to be a bit scared and even frustrated. On the one hand, I want to be cautious, informed and smart about the choices I make. I don’t want to be infected, obviously. And I don’t want to be the reason the disease spreads unnecessarily, either! On the other hand, the speed of the virus and the reporting around the disease has caused many to panic and many people are starting to blame the media for blowing this out of proportion.
I, for one, have certainly been frustrated with some of the sensationalistic nature of the journalism. Dr. Drew has made his opinion known on the subject. The challenge though, is over the past few years, it has become the norm to blame the media for nearly everything. But when we talk about “the media,” what do we really mean? Who are we really talking about. The challenge here is that the definition of the media has changed. So we need to know what “media” we are blaming in the first place. So here are a few distinctions that I think are worth understanding.
National News Media
When people blame “the media” for all of the frustration around the coronavirus, or the latest overhyped story, I think we often lay the blame at the feet of the national news media. My sense is, we feel these are large organizations that are not personal to us, so it’s easy to blame them for pumping up all “negative news stories.” Some of this blame is fair. The reality of it is, if a news show wants to be watched, it is forced to run stories that draw eyeballs. While we as people SAY we want positive, heartwarming stories about triumph and inspiration, the numbers tell a different story. We tune in for the hurricanes, the wars and the virus outbreaks. So while the National News Media can certainly be a part of the problem, I think most of the news media (and that is an important distinction, as I will explain) work hard to just report the news.
Local News Media
Most of the people I know who work in local news media are professional and hard working. They sincerely want to represent their local area to the best of their ability. But local news media runs into the same problem that the national news has…the people. What we say we want to watch, and what we tune in for are two different things. Each local station needs to perform and is in competition with not only local competitors, but also every other form of entertainment. That is why I struggle to watch most local news television programming. I am not interested in seeing a fire, followed by a shooting, followed by a stabbing, etc. These are news stories for sure. But I don’t feel they end up being an accurate representation of the area.
To me, this is where the real confusion, and challenge begins. Opinion Media are those shows on all “news” channels that talk about the news, but absolutely DO have an opinion and a bias. Regardless of your politics, Opinion Media is on both sides. This is where the line really starts to blur between what is fact and opinion.
Fake News Media
Despite the fact that I hate it when leaders shout “Fake News” when someone reports something they don’t like, Fake News is an actual thing. Many of us know, there are many websites that have been created by both sides of the political spectrum designed to look like real media, but are not. These are the lowest form of any media because they are designed to manipulate and lie. These websites create narratives that some people from both sides of the political spectrum want to believe. So, armed with an article that says what they way, they share away without fact checking or common sense.
Which leads nicely to Social Media. We have all become a member of “the Media” we say we are frustrated with. So much of what is sensationalistic or untrue is actually being shared, or even reported, by our friends. Social media is wonderful when it is used to share insight into our own lives. But more and more people are getting a large chunk of their “news” from their feed on Facebook. If that’s the case, then each of us needs to take responsibility for what we are sharing. The great thing is that now, everyone has a voice. The bad new is, not everyone deserves it.
So while there is plenty of blame to go around about the “media” overblowing the latest crisis (whatever that is), just make sure we all look in the mirror. They are the media. But so are we.
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