News as Entertainment and the Unmourned Death of the Noble Art that was Journalism

News as Entertainment and the Unmourned Death of the Noble Art that was Journalism

Joe Williams, Pigeon Enthusiast, part-time Contributor

The first amendment to the United States constitution – arguably one of, if not the most important thereof – protects the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. So ingrained is this into our view of the world around us that we oft forget about it – we say what we please about who we want, when we want to. It would be a grave failing, however, to think that such rights are not a blessing. In many countries around the world, the ability to voice one’s mind, especially through the medium of the news, is strangled by oppressive governments. Those that wish to speak their minds face persecution, violence, and even death should they be caught, and still the flame of the human need to express oneself burns on. So driven are these reporters that they will take any opportunity to share their work – such as Reporters Without Borders “Uncensored Library”, an honest-to-goodness Minecraft server where reporters globally can share work that could get them killed in their home countries, desperate for any chance to share the truth with the world. And yet, here in the United States, where freedom of press is a constitutionally-protected right, a distressingly large portion of modern journalism has been corrupted into a despicable web of lies, designed to maximize profits and viewer engagement rather than tell the truth.

Whatever could have brought this change about in American society (and the rest of the western world, to an extent)? As with most such questions, the answer is highly complicated. One of the foremost reasons is, in itself, disconnected from journalism and reporting – advertisement. In 2020, FOX News, one of the US’s leading cable networks, brought in approximately $2.8 billion of revenue. Of that, 1.2 billion, a whopping 41%, came from advertisement profits. The massive monetary incentive behind advertisement encourages news to buy advertising time, and in turn to maximize viewer engagement – and what better way to maximize such engagement than through sensationalist news? 

News sensationalism, especially on a nationwide or even global scale, is a natural result of the modern ease of transmitting data. Now that virtually all of the world’s information is available at any given person’s fingertips, news that simply reports is worthless. Instead, to keep dopamine-hooked viewers’ eyes on the screen, news outlets report solely on tragedies. An example of such a scenario can be found in the Alar scandal of 1989. Alar was a pesticide commonly sprayed on apples that, after some testing, was believed to have caused tumors in laboratory animals. When an environmental activist group thought the Environmental Protection Agency was too slow in banning the product, they engineered an experiment based on dubious data that allegedly showed Alar was causing cancer in children. The response was immediate – the media took to the story with abandon, ignoring the FDA and EPA’s statement that they believed Alar was, in fact, safe. With the media’s prodding, logical reason rapidly gives way to sensationalist outcry. Heaven forbid there not be a tragedy or scandal to milk for advertisement time – lest one will be made. 

There is no easy fix to the modern corruption of the news medium, but that does not mean we cannot take action. Temper your own emotional reactions with reason – consider the motivations behind headlines, and see if you can get a look at the man behind the curtain. Don’t spread misinformation, and don’t believe something just because it’s what you want to believe. Take advantage of your first amendment rights and use the massive wealth of knowledge available to you to root out lies and deception. Too many in journalism no longer purse the noble ideals of the bygone past, instead searching to feed themselves with the weak-minded and vulnerable. We must, at all times, endeavor not to be come their fuel.