The Whittier Miscellany

In Defense of News

Leah Johnson, News Editor

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Why should people read the news when in many cases it does not affect them and often makes them feel powerless to fuel change? Every day it seems as if there is a new natural or manmade disaster wreaking havoc over unsuspecting people or a horrible attack being perpetrated against unarmed civilians. Wars rage on and refugees are forced to leave their homes for a foreign land that is not always welcoming, and it makes us want to tune out for a while. So why should we train ourselves with dogged resolve to read reputable news sources and be informed about the global community? Because the people’s right to know is the foundation of our democracy. It is the media that has historically been the voice of the people and, in many senses, the fourth branch of government. It is important to make the connections between current events and past events so as to understand not only what is happening, but why it is happening.

    How the American people have received news in the past is radically different from the technology-driven consumption of today, but concepts like fake news were around long before 2016. Before technology, most people received news and information from newspapers, books, and word of mouth. This limited access to information, which meant that news was primarily valued by its accuracy. In the 1600s space in a newspaper was prized because printing one was so expensive, therefore articles getting published went through a rigorous review process for factual accuracy. The primary difference between news of the past and the news of now  is the abundance of information at humanity’s fingertips. Instead of reading through a book, the internet is close at hand with a speedy answer. In order to state an opinion one no longer needs to be published in a newspaper or journal, but only post on Facebook or create a blog. This has fundamentally changed how the American and global society perceive information, and by extension, news.

    The growth of technology has made the world smaller. It enables people to communicate across long distances which has led to an interweaving of politics, culture, and economies across the globe. It also means that anyone can express any opinion and have it broadcasted to millions of people with little to no filter or review process. When asked what she thinks about the growth of technology on our news, Bella Stuccio ’19 responded, “Growth of technology has made it easier to receive news, but it also means that not all the news people receive is accurate. This is especially true for social media. It can be a good thing and a bad thing.” It also has changed the media with which Americans get their news. Previously newspapers were predominant; now, a poll by the Pew Research Center in February of 2016 reports that 57% of adults often get news from TV, while 38% get news from online (social media, websites, apps, etc). This demonstrates how influential technologies such as the internet and televisions have become with regards to how Americans get the news.

A recent poll at WFS asks a similar question: How do students in our community get their news? This poll revealed that of the 145 student responses, 38.6% learn about the news from social media, which is eerily close to the national average of adults. The other noteworthy revelation from this poll was that 15.2% of people reported getting their news largely from word of mouth and what they heard other people discussing that day. This was the fourth largest percentage reported, and was only a little over one percent smaller than the number of people who reported getting their news from TV channels.

    The second part of the poll asked WFS students how informed they feel about current events. Most of the responses indicated that students felt fairly well informed.

    When asked whether this surprised her, Hailey DiCindio ’18 commented, “It doesn’t. A lot of clubs and committees contribute to that, and teachers make an effort to bring up current events; like when Mr. Rashkind related the Las Vegas shootings to what we were learning about in English class. Basically everyone in the class had something to say about the Las Vegas shooting, so that indicated that people generally knew what was going on.” This suggests that wherever students are getting their news, they feel fairly well informed by those sources. When looking at the top three percentages, which are 38.6% for social media, 22.8% for online newspaper, and 16.6% for TV news, it is important to consider just how reliable those sources of news are.

    Social media is notorious for feeding its consumers with news that fits their personal point of view, which is expressed in their media presence. TV news, however, is more interesting because it has a more reputable reputation, but considerable drawbacks. In the New York Times article by Dan Abrams called “What is Was Like to Compete Against Roger Ailes and Fox News,” which was published in July of 2016, the author examines how in order to compete with Fox News, he, the Network Manager for MSNBC, had to make his network more attention-grabbing and entertaining. He described how Ailes used interesting graphics and an integration of sound and music to make his shows more appealing to the audience. When MSNBC copied his strategy, they found that their prime time rating soared by more than 50 percent.

    This “entertainment-ification” of TV news shows is dangerous to their quality. If these networks are more focused on viewers, they place more value on how entertaining the show is rather than how accurate. They do this because it is what appeals to viewers, who are so immersed in sources of information; in order to distinguish themselves they need to be attention-grabbing. Information has become so easily accessible that, like any commodity that is easy to come by, it has become devalued. Why should people pay for information when they can just search on the internet and see what people are saying about it? While this has had a disastrous effect this on newspapers, leading to major downsizing and budget cuts, it also has a disastrous effect on society as a whole. In his book, Brave New World, written in 1939, Aldous Huxley describes a society that has become so apathetic that there would never be a reason to ban a book because no one would ever want to read one. In this world, the truth becomes irrelevant because people don’t care. The view of the future that Huxley describes in his dystopian novel is perhaps more dramatic than our society can expect, but presents justification for concern.

    Ultimately the news is important because it is how people fight off apathy and inertia in order to get involved in the system that governs them. The power of the media is that it empowers the people. Dissolved interests in current events and the world is a relinquishment of that power.

 

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In Defense of News