Columns

Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Let’s go back to basic reportage

By
Opinions Columnist

Where do you get news that you trust?

Technological innovation is begging us to reconsider where we get our news, how it is conveyed and how we perceive it. Most news channels have their slants and biases, relieving us of certain interpretations while encouraging others and painting the news in a certain light. The news these days is decided purely from a marketing standpoint, not from the actual occurrences of which the public should be aware.

This has been the growing cry from many news readers who prefer receiving their news in the traditional, impartial way — sans drama and hyperbole. This past week, this complaint was placed on center stage with the coverage of the shooting at the Canadian parliament building.

Scott Bixby, social media editor for the Daily Beast, tweeted a revealing juxtaposition of two photos. They were both screenshots of the home pages of national news networks concerning precisely the same incident, but the portrayals were wildly different. The headline of the Canadian network CBC News reads “Live: Soldier dies after Parliament Hill attack, gunman also shot dead.” On the other hand, America’s CNN displays the headline in a bold, overbearingly large print: “Breaking news: TERRIFIED CAPITAL” with the subheading “Soldier killed at Ottawa memorial.”

We can start with the irony that Canada’s news is a calmer demonstration of dispassionate reportage though that country is bearing the brunt of this crisis. The U.S. media is making itself look like a histrionic teenager who dramatizes and advertises every little occurrence, regardless of proximity.

Journalist Mark Joyella calls the U.S. media out on this in a piece for Mediabistro’s TVNewser site; he says that while watching the CBC coverage of the incident, he could only think of how “un-American” the segment came off. Joyella touches upon certain faults in American coverage when he explains that while watching Canadian news, he “never heard a second of dramatic music, never saw a full-screen wipe with a catchy graphic like TERROR ON PARLIAMENT HILL, and never, ever heard (Peter) Mansbridge or any of the CBC’s reporters dip even a toe into the waters of self-promotion.”

It is saddening that we, American viewers, have become so accustomed to the glorified marketing ploys that we call news that it is noticeable when a foreign reporter is sporting a calm demeanor while being honest about having unsubstantiated information.

Nick Martin, associate editor for Talking Points Memo, tweeted a photo of an actual Fox News poll asking what the greatest threat to the United States is right now. The results? 50 percent ISIS. 27 percent Ebola. 18 percent ISIS and Ebola.

This says just a bit about the disproportionate manner in which U.S. news is reported today. As Zack Beauchamp wrote on Vox, “it is possible to cover these stories in a way that acknowledges their danger without over-hyping it.” The majority of Americans should not be considering ISIS a vital threat, when experts say it isn’t really that imminent. I’d attribute this to overly embellished reportage that plays on an element of pathos.

How does this hyperbolic reporting affect us as viewers? For one thing, we might be strongly inspired to wear a full hazmat suit through an airport in Virginia, because, yes, that happened the other day. Or we might be more convinced that day 47 of the hunt for a Malaysian airplane is more monumental than a piece of news that is fresh and actually news.

It is this intense bias present in today’s news that has led to a loss of trust. The more the media builds things up, the less we are inclined to believe it to be accurate. A Daily Source.org piece cites a statistic revealing that “a poll by USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup found only 36 percent of Americans believe news organizations get the facts straight, compared with 54 percent in mid-1989.” This may be a result of the increasing tendency of reporters to play up a story to sell papers. In addition, with the prominence of Twitter as a news source, many ideas, possibly contradictory ones, are circulating faster than traditional news reports.

Twitter has been a fairly reliable news source despite the fact that it is merely a medium. For it to serve as a trustworthy vehicle for releasing information, one must follow accounts that are reputable. During the Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Police Department communicated with the public solely through Twitter by tweeting urgent updates. This was the most efficient way to spread the word and with accuracy since it was coming directly from the BPD’s Twitter account. Instances like this are evidence that Twitter is surpassing news networks in trustworthiness and timeliness.

On the other hand, Twitter was responsible for facilitating the spreading of entirely false information about some individuals after the bombings. While this mode of social networking has been widely viewed as a means to receive truthful news, this inconsistency calls that perception into question, as it simply provides grounds for the public’s diminishing trust in most news sources.

So what happened to good old-fashioned raw news reporting for the sake of informing the public of important occurrences? Why has everything even remotely manipulatable turned into a spectacle? What is it that gives marketing precedence over hard journalism? We do not really know where our news comes from. It could be Twitter or it could be Canadian coverage, but it isn’t American news, unless it can get away from the flamboyance.

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be reached at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.

  • whoa

    “Good old-fashioned raw news reporting for the sake of informing the public of important occurrences”? What an insane way to describe journalism. Ivy Leaguers, writin’ weird, quotin’ Vox.

  • I know zack

    That’s zack beauchamp ’10 to you!