News media thrives on sensationalism

by Elizabeth Reeves

Here’s the issue: The media are thriving on our fear, and I don’t know about you, but I am getting tired of it. Day in and day out there are columnists and media producers staring at online articles, weather reports and papers looking for the latest in what will spur public fear. Let’s be honest: fear is what keeps us plugged in, hooked on the news and trusting the broadcasters. It’s what causes us to focus on articles about a local preacher’s family massacred in their sleep and the West Virginia plane crash. There is a recently published (as of  Sept. 24, 2011) MSNBC article headlined “Doomed Satellite Crashes Back To Earth.” Am I really supposed to believe that a six-ton satellite is going to fall on my Portland-based home? Give me a break.

Don’t get me wrong: These are very serious news stories that the public needs to be informed about, but I’ve had enough of the over-dramatization of these situations. Just as frustrating is the constant replaying of these horrible events on the television, which causes them to remain on our minds for months. When I am watching my local news show, why would they go all the way to Florida to tell me about a violent murder in a retirement community? It’s because violence sells. The media seems to be trying to convince us that the world is unsafe and we need to rely on the news for updated coverage on whether or not we are safe to leave our homes.

Here is the low down friends, less is more! The fewer fear tactics that news throws at us (or rather, the less you focus on these fearful stories) the more time you and I have to focus on what is more relevant to our lives. Fear-based media keeps us from finding out about the important things like what we can actually be doing to contribute to the betterment of the world.

The media even stress us with the weather report! Please explain to me how this innocuous four letter word “snow” turns three inches of white fluff into a full-blown non-perishables trip to Safeway and the expectation of a city-stopping blizzard on the front page of the newspaper? Here’s how: As viewers, our perception of our lives becomes inextricably connected with these fear-based messages, therefore, if the media convinces us that we are going to die in a blizzard, we will continue to watch coverage of our spiraling doom while being enticed with the fear of devastation.

It’s simple math. Intensely scared viewers + around-the-clock coverage + through the roof ratings = mass quantities of money for the television station (and in case of a blizzard, the local grocery store). The point being that if you watch this news and fully buy into everything that is being presented to you, it will paralyze you. Be an informed viewer and do not settle for accepting fearful images as the absolute truth.

It all begins with this line: “Please be aware that the images you are about to see may be disturbing to some viewers.” This is the start of the media pulling out all of the stops to engage you, the viewer, in your absolute favorite, got-to-have-it drug addiction: fear. Popular media staff are trained specifically to provide us with coverage of not what we want or even need to see but rather what they know we cannot turn away from. I do not want or trust anyone in the media sculpting what I think. What we think is what we manifest. Therefore, if our thoughts are plagued by this constant media -induced fear, it may discourage us from being proactive citizens.

I challenge you to question each and every story that the media throws at you because it is up to you to determine fact from fiction. Do not let fear be the determining factor and skew your perception. Let what media provides you with to be a starting point and then from their research find the real truths.  There is nothing that we can do to stop the media from attempting to traumatize us every time we turn on our television, however there are things we can do as viewers to ignore the feelings of fear that media wants to evoke. It’s important to be aware that fear is what’s keeping us engrossed in the news. The moment that you become aware of this fear is the time you begin to be a free-thinking audience member focusing on the actual facts rather than the emotion associated with the information. Remember that it is a reporter’s responsibility to report – that’s what they are getting paid for. Therefore sometimes the reporter creates the news.

We cannot be at the mercy of the fear that media creates. We have to be our own news filter. If you’ve heard a tragic story, choose to hear it only once and when it presents itself again, move on to a new story. Or possibly when you see a headline that you know is over-dramatized, instead of indulging in fear, here’s a new idea: don’t read it. A news cycle is spinning 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However national tragedies are not happening as frequently as this news cycle, so media continue to run and run and run the same story that is shocking or fear-inducing. Instead of being overwhelmed with these unspeakable tragedies, look at the stories that focus on generosity and community or national successes. Face the facts: producers run horrific stories repeatedly because we are ready and willing to watch. The only way media will stop producing these stories is when they stop getting money to report them (i.e. when we stop welcoming them into our homes on a brightly lit screen).

So here is the difficult-to-do yet easy-to-conclude solution: stop watching.

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