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In The News (10/26/2020)

General Effects On The Viewer

I still browse news articles now and again to try to stay informed of what is considered "current", but I also take the news as a whole with a healthy dose of salt...

News often homes in on tragedy, and some might even become encouraged to carry out destructive behavior in order to become infamous through the news. Do awful things sometimes happen? Yes, of course. But I also think that the "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality of a lot of journalism makes it seem like the world is a much more violent place than it actually is most of the time. We should always be cautious and aware of our surroundings, but dwelling upon negativity does not help one's overall mental-emotional state, nor can we effectively resolve problems when we are overcome by fear and worry.

Observing The Landscape

Honestly, whether it is considered "mainstream" or "independent", there are a lot of trends within the presentation of news that I find questionable. In their worst forms, they are dishonest and cause harm. Let's explore a few of them...

• Sensationalism

Headlines are often filled with loaded language. Sometimes it is just "clickbait", but other times it seems incredibly negligent, as if it is purposefully written with the intention of stirring up social unrest and inciting riots.

Likewise, many newscasts have dramatic music or sound effects added to them. Perhaps it is just me, but it seems tasteless, like it is trying to make entertainment out of what are often serious subjects. It also seems manipulative, as if it is trying to evoke a particular emotional response from the viewer. If it is truly intended to inform, shouldn't it be presented as plainly as possible?

• Misdirection & Conditioning

News articles sometimes use "clipart" that seems as if it is an actual photo of what is being described within the text. News videos sometimes use "stock footage" (or "b-roll") that serves a similar function.

This might not seem like a big deal, but the impression that it gives can be completely misleading. For example, imagine that a local news anchor is talking about a robbery while they are showing some footage of police officers holding stacks of confiscated hundred dollar bills from a prior robbery case...But what happened this time was that a kid stole some candy from a convenience store. While some may think that "it technically isn't lying", this kind of exaggeration does create a false equivalence. In this case, it would make it seem as if the kid stole hundreds of dollars instead of some candy. Upon seeing the news story, someone who didn't know the details of the situation would draw a very different conclusion about what had actually happened. It may even affect that kid's life long after they have paid for their crime. If it has to be used within the news, shouldn't it at least be stated clearly on the material itself that it is in fact clipart or stock footage? This is easy to do and the less of a chance that there is for misunderstandings the better.

Misdirection may also come in the form of repetition though. There is a familiar saying, "Repeat a lie often enough, and people will think it is true." For example, news from "different" outlets can sometimes have a similarity in wording, to the point that it feels like the same material was simply copy-and-pasted, or that they are all following the same script.

News should impartially deliver facts, not act as an "echo chamber" for people's personal opinions, or try to condition us into thinking a certain way. We seek out news to become informed enough to draw our own conclusions about a matter, not to be persuaded.

• Distortion, Omission, & Fabrication

People can be made to say anything by cutting up their words and rearranging them. Misquotes do not always come from mishearings.

Important information is sometimes purposely altered or removed when it goes against the beliefs/agendas of the individual journalist or the organization that they work for. And if we have to go research the subject for ourselves, we may not always have access to the same resources that are made available to some investigative reporters. Therefore, when they do happen, it can be difficult to find out that these types of changes have been made.

Some "news" is completely made up, but intentionally dressed up to look as if it is an actual news item. It is usually apparent when this is done only as a joke. However, it can also be done by well-known news providers who manipulate the trust of their readers/viewers for financial gain, to push their own political biases, or as a "favor" to another. For example, what seems like a "normal" news story might really be a paid-for advertisement to promote a business, some propaganda for a political campaign, or a "hit piece" aimed at assassinating someone's character. These are sometimes found under the seemingly benign name of "video news releases" (or "VNRs" for short).

For those that are interested, there is an old documentary called "Spin" by Brian Springer that brilliantly covers many of these topics. While the examples may seem "dated", these issues are obviously still a problem nearly 29 years later.

...So, What Do We Do About It?

While there are ethics and standards for journalism, all of the above is evidence that they are not always followed. Therefore, it is important for us to develop discernment in how we approach news from any source, including this one. ☺ Here are a couple of tips...

Tip #1: Care In What We Take In

News is often absorbed without much thought, a passing glance within a busy day. Before formulating an opinion on a subject, explore it a little more thoroughly and keep an eye out for some of the patterns that we have mentioned here. We should ask ourselves, "Is there a motive behind how this is presented?"

Remember, lying can be done through intentional...
• fabrication of "truth"
• omission of truth
• distortion/exaggeration of truth

When these are done unintentionally, they are mistakes. They only become lies when they are purposely left uncorrected. Be open enough to give everything the benefit of the doubt, but also discerning enough to question everything.

Generally, people only spread falsity and hide the truth when they perceive it as being beneficial to themselves in some way, or when it seems to aid something that they deeply identify with.

Seek out those who sincerely try to report on subjects accurately, and realize that truth can sometimes come from the most unexpected of places...

Tip #2: Care In What We Give Out

When sharing information, do not simply "pass it on" to others without thought. We should ask ourselves what our intention is for sharing it. Is it intended to be helpful or is it gossip?

The advent of smartphones with high-quality cameras and the vast spread of social media networks has been "a blessing and a curse". On the one hand, it has made it so that valuable information cannot be easily suppressed. On the other hand, it allows for the quick spread of misinformation.

The problems that we have pointed out with news also apply to the contents of social media; it is indicative of more general human tendencies running amok.

It is good to express one's feelings, but we should also cultivate a sense of composure, becoming less emotionally reactive to what we perceive. Unless there is an immediate physical danger, few things require a "knee-jerk" response.

Further, opinions can be shared without trying to force or manipulate others into believing the same. We should strive for openness, honesty, clarity, and patience in communication.

Thank you for reading! ♥

Some music:
Vashti Bunyan - Diamond Day

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