“Most ‘news’ is just press releases and breathless exaggerations of isolated problems”
Being born right after the turn of the century, I grew up on the cusp of old-fashioned news and the transition into social media. I remember excitedly waiting every Sunday morning for the paper to arrive and get the youthful thrill of feeling like a well-informed adult – to the best of my seven-year-old ability. In my developing teen years however, I stopped reading the paper and turned to social media as a source of global news.
Evidently, social media has quickly become the main source of online news, as it is free and easily accessible. Facebook and Twitter especially, have become the primary informants to consumers globally. Whilst social media definitely has its perks – delivering news faster and more efficiently than ever before and covering stories that the news neglects – it is wholly unreliable. Despite this, people knowingly consume the misinformation delivered daily. The 2019 Digital News Report: Australia, shows that social media is the primary source of news for 47% of those in Generation Z, and 33% of Millennials (Generation Y). These figures are increasing, and these individuals are also neglecting to fact-check their news.
Whilst social media has its blatant issues, ‘genuine’ news – such as the New York Times –has faced a significant downfall. To keep up with the fast paced, exciting and dramatic delivery of news that occurs on social media, ‘genuine’ news sources have turned to developing, as Rob Wijnberg, the founder of The Correspondent says, “one crazy unrelated event after another”. He also states that today, news only focusses on the “sensational, exceptional, negative and current events”.
The sensational news focusses on stories or events that are scandalous or shocking enough to provoke their reading or viewing community to comment or react. This is, states Guardian journalist Joris Luyendijk, why terrorist attacks frequent the news more often than the occupation of foreign lands. This is why highly visible events, such as the attack on the world trade centre, make headlines more frequently than the slow yet continuous decline of the state of the natural world.
The exceptional news is an extension of that which is sensational. This surrounds events or issues that are not – to the news – naturally exceptional in any way, until something entirely outlandish occurs. An example of this is the financial crisis of 2008. What was ‘exceptional’ about this even was when eventually, the Lehman Brothers investment bank had to file for bankruptcy. However, this would not have been ‘exceptional’ if there was any record of what was happening – the continuous exploitation of risk until it backfired. This is what Rob Wijnberg calls the “fundamental mismatch between what is happening (gradual risk increase) and the way news commonly signals what is happening (event-driven sensationalism)”.
The obsession with that which is both negative and recent by the news is also without exception. The news constantly covers the negative aspects of the human race, such as the Neo-Nazis and terrorists, but are quick to neglect those that are making a difference. What about those cleaning up oceans and promoting love? The intrinsically good, law abiding, friendly, neighbourly people in the world? What is negative about the world is quick to trample on that which is good. Not only this, but the news is highly focussed on what has taken place at any immediate moment. The obsession with what is recent means that the global population misses out on developing news such as growing struggles with oppression, changes in society, the development of third world countries or the repair of a country after natural disaster – all events which are important.
The issue is however, that the people get what the people demand. Whilst news is becoming evidently toxic – to a degree – it is on behalf of the consumers. Taken from the 2019 Digital News Report: Australia, more Australian news consumers (34%) would rather invest in an online video streaming service than online news (9%). Not only this, but Australians appear wholly dissatisfied with the state of the news, with only 25% saying that the stories are relevant to them, 44% saying that it is too negative too often, and less than a mere 45% thinking that news companies hold the powerful to account.
The greatest issue is perhaps, that news companies believe that what they’re producing promotes satisfaction within their consumers. This is however incorrect, with current news making us weary of our neighbours and cementing stigmas and stereotypes. Ultimately, it is making us unhappy. The sensationalism of today’s news makes its consumers beg the question “why and how did we not see this coming?”, but really, it has been happening all this time and no one was told of the series of events that lead to one monumental event.
It can be argued that news has always been recording and reporting in this sensational, negative way, however, a new RAND Corporation report (2019) has revealed that over the past thirty years, journalism has shifted its content focus to more subjective, opinion-based pieces. They especially rely on triggering the emotions of their audiences, and argumentation. The most recent RAND Corporation report focusses on “Truth Decay”, defined as “the diminishing role that facts, data, and analysis play on today’s political and civil discourse”. This twenty-eight-year study proves that the factual and ‘genuine’ reporting of news has been lost.
With the thousands of news platforms that can be found at the click of a button, it is difficult to find a news source that is as ‘genuine’ and objective as the news was thirty years ago. Not only this, but the ‘fake news’ that is constantly circulating social media is making it difficult to know what to care about, and what to ignore. Accurate information is intrinsically vital and to become a better informed and free minded population, there needs to be an emphasis on what we really need and want to be seeing on the news.