By Sean Weems
You Imagine a time when you couldn’t just open your phone and watch the news as it happened. There was no channel dedicated to 24/7 news. It wasn’t that long ago that our mornings began with the daily newspaper. Heck, I even had a paper route at one time. If there was breaking news, you’d get a slide on your television screen and authoritative voice that said We Interrupt This Program For Breaking News. Other than that, we’d wait until 6:30 each night to gather with family in front of the TV to watch a retelling of the day’s events. I had questions like, “Who are Woodward and Bernstein, and why are they important?” The next morning at school, my friends and I would rehash the latest Six Million Dollar Man. After we debated the various types of cooties the girls our age had, our discussion changed to whatever was happening in the news. I was turning into a knee-high news junkie.
At some point during my high school years, it became easier to get my news fix. I no longer had to wait for the evening news or the morning paper. Headline news kept me informed every half hour. I still read the paper on a daily basis, but that happened in the past – way in the past. I was becoming addicted to needing my news and needing it now.
Fast forward to the first Gulf War. I had live images on-demand. I was able to get reports from journalists on the frontlines of Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. I saw death and destruction and human suffering. There was never enough and the line between news and movie-like entertainment was blurred.
In 1994, I rearranged my work schedule to watch the O.J. Simpson trial on CourtTV. The commentary between testimony was delicious. It fed my desire for the sensational.
In 2000, we had an election that was hotly contested. Seemingly, this is where the news world spun off its axis. It was a ratings game for the networks and the cable news talking heads. We had erroneous reporting of results. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t sleep because I was glued to my TV. I’d flip from network to network. I didn’t want to miss a thing. And the networks didn’t disappoint. They gave me the drug I needed – the news.
Then 9/11 happened. The TV news outlets replayed that morning’s horrific events in split screen style. On one-half of our screen, we had the past replaying itself in a loop from every angle imaginable. On the other half, we would often get glimpses of the shocked faces of the reporters tasked with standing near Ground Zero and delivering what was happening in real time. It was a fluid situation and the country was in shock. We were hurting as a nation. We had also had more stations competing for our viewership. Now more than ever, we had more commentary than news.
Through the years news morphed from information to entertainment. We look to personalities like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to deliver our news, when in fact, they are only delivering their view of things. The news stations are now nothing more than mouthpieces for or against a particular view. We’ve lost objectivity.
More than ever, we are relying on non-traditional news. Facebook is great for catching up with old friends, but it’s also turned into a forum for people to insert themselves into the news. People are waiting for an aha moment to catch and post. It’s a case of Man Bites Dog. We are now making news by reporting events that are more the exception than the rule. In exchange, we miss the big story.
Just this week, we lost a teacher to domestic violence. An innocent 8-year-old boy was in the wrong place at an unfortunate time and was caught up in the crossfire and lost his life. Last week a country bombed its own citizens with banned chemical weapons. There was also an explosion in Germany that appears to be a terror-related. That barely caught a glance from the major news outlets.The story we want to talk about is a man being removed from a United flight. It wasn’t news at the time, but it became news as the company responded to social media outrage while digging deeper into a public relations quagmire.
The result? Too often we are swept up by a lynch-mob mentality. We are quick to convict in the court of public opinion without all of the facts. We are no longer observers of the news, we are participants.