There’s a moment in everyone’s life when they need to cut through the noise and figure out which voices they want to listen to, who they trust and what to believe. It can be a hard choice to make, particularly in the U.S. media landscape. We are inundated constantly with views and opinions from pundits and peers alike. The line between what is real and what is fake is so heavily blurred that only the naive take “news” at face value.
Sadly, “watching the news” is no longer synonymous with being informed. Whether you watch CNN, where the toothless anchors seem to exist only to illustrate the failure of cable news, or MSNBC, which is slipping into greater and greater irrelevance, or Fox, which doesn’t even deserve to be called a news channel, you aren’t getting anywhere close to the whole story. At best, you’re getting a highlight reel designed to increase ratings, not inform the public.
The state of news in the United States is enough to drive anyone crazy. The rise of the 24-hour news cycle has created a complete monster, belching out “BREAKING NEWS” to fill the hours but failing to provide any kind of actual value to the public. The biggest names in news aren’t driven by journalistic integrity, but by advertising revenue, meaning the day’s top stories are dictated by the bottom line. Surprise surprise, fueling fear and creating a sense of ever looming tension is what keeps people hooked and the money pouring into the pockets of shareholders.
We’ve seen a few cases of cable news failing to pick up breaking stories. When Wendy Davis lead her filibuster in Texas, cable news was silent. When protests first broke out in Ferguson, cable news was silent. These stories made it big on social media, propelling them into the public. But what other stories are being ignored by the influential platforms? What other controversies are going unreported because someone with a Twitter handle didn’t happen to be there at the right time? Citizen journalism may be flawed, but when the professionals fail, who else can step in?
But when cable news does get their teeth into a story, they often butcher it. They ramp up the perceived threat, tone down the nuance and push a few key talking points that keep viewers tuned in. Speculation replaces context when anchors have to fill hours on hours of coverage, and all too often tone-deaf filler replaces actual reporting. Do producers think the public would be bored by the actual facts? Would viewers just be too exhausted by an actual understanding of an issue? Or were they confused? Did they think they were writing a Michael Bay movie, rather than the news?
Some may ask, “But where else can you get news?” Well, I gave up cable news a few years ago, and believe it or not, there are a lot of sources for news out there. Newspapers and weeklies still do great reporting, be it the New York Times or The Economist. NPR will always be one of my most trusted sources. Al Jazeera English and the BBC can be relied on to report on the big U.S. news stories of the day, without any of the ridiculous non-news that fills U.S. screens on a daily basis. Although Twitter can be questionable, it’s a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of what people are talking about without any of the commentary from pundits. In the few years since I started avoiding the big cable news sources, I’ve found that I know less about manufactured crises stateside and more about top stories from around the world. I may not know what Chris Christie said to make such-and-such a person mad, but I can articulate an opinion on Ukip’s success in the recent Rochester and Strood by-elections. That’s a trade I’m more than happy to make.
Cable news as we know it is not good enough, and it shouldn’t be trusted. It really all boils down to that. The golden age of American anchors leading the public and exposing truth, the age of Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, is over. The best thing we can do is let the bloated and arrogant industry that is 24-hour news slip into irrelevance and build something better out of the rubble. Something that isn’t beholden to advertisers. Something that doesn’t treat the public like children incapable of understanding complexity and nuance. Something that actually elevates our discourse and encourages us to think harder and more critically.
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