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September 8, 2011

So Many Different ‘Truths’

Amanda Haddaway

Television news has evolved tremendously since the first broadcasts in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Back then, television news was only 15 minutes.


The content and format of the news segments were very similar to those heard on radio and the broadcasts had no frills. In the early 1960s, most news shows expanded to a 30-minute format. Over time, television news has morphed again, this time into a 24-hour, 365-day affair. People with cable and satellite television have their choice of all-news networks and can tune in at any hour to find out the latest world events, weather and celebrity news. One must wonder, is all this news too much?


It seems that the mainstream media has become our go-to source. We’ve lost our ability to be free thinkers and instead rely on what our favorite “talking head” said about the topic of the day. We tend to watch and listen to media sources that are most closely aligned with our own belief systems. Democrats are often quick to point out that Republicans only listen to that “garbage on FOX News,” or – more locally – WFMD. Republicans counter by blaming Democrats for buying into the network babble and listening to the likes of Rachel Maddow and others on MSNBC.


The more evolved news connoisseurs listen to both sides of the proverbial political aisle and make their own decisions about what is fact and what is fiction. It seems that more and more, people who are paid to report the news are actually injecting their own personal biases and sensationalizing the facts. We can only hope that this trend doesn’t continue. What happened to just reporting the news and not taking dramatic license with the who, what, when, where and why?


There also seems to be a growing apathy from consumers of the news. We’ve all heard people say that the news is depressing and question why local media sources can’t just talk about something positive once in a while. The criticism isn’t just lodged at television news either. Our print media take its fair share of condemnation, too. Talk radio gets dinged about being too “tea party-esque” or “ultra-liberal.”


The recent hurricane highlighted our obsession, and expectation, of television news today. Most of the networks pre-empted their regular programming and went into crisis communication mode with anchors at the news desk for at least 24 hours straight.


There were live remotes with reporters in rain gear and the promise of “you saw it here first” coverage around the clock. You could almost hear the giddy excitement from the meteorologists’ voices about the impending weather event.


However, was it really necessary to have all this coverage of rain, wind and high waves? Where is the balance between reporting the facts and sensationalism? Was it really necessary to have reporters in Ocean City on a hotel balcony even though the town had been evacuated hours prior?


In the case of a true emergency, we have an emergency alert system. Has this system been replaced by the media and overly anxious reporters? It’s hard to say. The sad fact is that crisis, violence and other bad behavior sells newspapers and increases viewers on television and listeners on radio. The news is big business. Media sources that can’t attract advertisers go out of business. Businesses are only apt to advertise if there’s an audience.


As a news consumer, remember that the “news” you’re watching may not be just the facts. Try out an alternate news source and see how the “facts” differ from station to station. You may be amazed at how one event can have so many different “truths.”


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