Journalistic Frustrations: The News Media’s Focus on Certain Stories

When I was at work this week, one of my co-workers brought up that there hadn’t been any stories about ISIS in a while.  And it got me thinking.  It’s true, we haven’t heard much about ISIS in the last couple of months or so.  Which is strange, because recent reports indicate that they are actually losing ground in the Middle East.  In fact, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in a recent rally here in Duluth Minnesota, pointed out that they had lost around forty percent of the territory they had captured.  So it made me wonder why no major news outlet seemed to be reporting that.

Many often criticize the media for being a little too “pro-american”.  Oftentimes, big issues at the heart of our country (such as wealth distribution) get left out.  Even the Flint Michigan water scandal, where aging water pipes led to acute lead contamination, barely seemed to make the news for more than a few days, despite the fact that it has been a problem since 2014.  But the truth is that the journalistic world is often strange and subject to a wide variety of factors.  Much like how many fast food chains are owned under the same umbrella corporation, news stations are often tied to some rich person or group, even if they are technically an affiliate of another major news outlet (such as ABC or NBC).  This leads to a lot of differing tastes in handling news, which means that sometimes you will see stories on certain networks that don’t even air on others.

And sometimes, stories just simply aren’t reported because there isn’t any new information on it.  I have worked at a TV station for over two years now and I studied journalism in college.  I am very familiar with the concept of “newsworthiness”, which essentially means how worth it a story is to report on the nightly or daily news broadcast.  If there’s nothing new to report or not enough information, often the story hits the cutting block and is left out.

Still though, sometimes the news does things that just baffle me.

I could spend a long time talking about how stories on the presidential campaign feel less like news updates and more “Stupid S*** Trump Said” segments, but I won’t.  Instead, I want to go back to an incident that happened in November of last year.  An armed man stormed into a Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs and shot up the place.  After a long and tense police standoff, he was arrested.  The news covered this story, even showing the trailer where the shooter lived.  His yard was dotted with makeshift wooden crosses, and in an interview a man (and I believe a member of the police force) mentioned that the first thing the man did when they met was hand him an anti-Obama pamphlet.  It was clear that the man was unhinged.  He even called himself “a warrior for the babies” while in court, further revealing his radical mindset.

The news only reported on this incident for a day.  Maybe two, but that’s it.  And they even dilly dallied over whether to call the man a terrorist or not.

Then, when the San Bernadino shooting happened, it was the top news story for over a week.

I must make a couple concessions before I continue.  Yes, it is true that only about one or two people actually died in the Planned Parenthood shooting, whereas a dozen or two were killed in San Bernadino.  And yes, it is true that the Muslim couple who perpetrated the San Bernadino shooting were in fact radicalized by ISIS.

But that’s just it.  We didn’t know that they were radicalized by ISIS until about a week after the incident.  And yet, we still reported on it every single day.

This is where my problem comes in.  As I said, the concept of “newsworthiness” hinges on the idea that you have new information to report on a story.  But with San Bernadino, every package for a week was basically the same: “this thing happened and these are the two that did it.  They may have been radicalized by Islamic terrorists, but investigators still haven’t found concrete evidence to show that.”  So then, why report it?  Why continually report on that when there was actually a good conversation to have in regards to the Planned Parenthood shooting?  Yes people died, but the stories were less about the victims and more about the perpetrators, much like what happens with every mass shooting in this country.

The man who attacked the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was very obviously radicalized by pro-life propaganda.  He was quoted as shouting things about “selling baby parts” as he fired his weapon in the building, which is of course in reference to the infamous videos that purported that Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts for profit.  The makers of those videos have since been indicted for tampering with government records, but the issue still stands that the man’s radicalization was at least in part due to those videos.  But we didn’t even talk about that.

In fact, the only thing I remember a politician really saying about it was Ted Cruz claiming that the pro-life movement had nothing to do with the man’s actions.  Instead, he said that it was reported that the man was a transgender, leftist activist.

Sorry Ted Cruz, that was just a ridiculous internet rumor.  Of course, you would know that if you bothered to do ANY FREAKING RESEARCH!

What I think it all comes down to is the fact that it’s just easier for people to have a conversation about radicalized Muslims because they’re such a small percentage of our population (roughly only one percent, although it is projected to grow).  It’s much easier to call them terrorists than it is to think about the idea of an average, middle-aged white guy who believes in the Christian god and has been so inundated with spiteful rhetoric that he’s turned into a ticking time bomb.  Now am I saying that pro-life rhetoric is hateful rhetoric?  No, not at all.  But there are subsets of the movement that lean towards incredibly radical speech, just like any other movement.  There are anti-abortion groups out there that continually compare abortion to the Holocaust, which is an extreme position to take and is indicative of their unwillingness to even hear out of the other side of the debate.

And that’s the thing.  The news media is supposed to point out stuff like this.  Journalists are supposed to direct us to the issues in our country that are worth talking about.  They are the Fourth Estate after all, the “watchdogs”.  But in recent years it feels like that’s the case less and less.  A lot of it probably has to do with the stations being owned by people with their own agendas and thoughts.  I might be being idealistic when it comes to journalism, but I think we need a little idealism these days.  Far too often we grow bitter and cynical, refusing to do anything to make our country better.  “Well nothing’s going to change, so why should I bother,” we say.  But in apathy we find a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Indeed, nothing’s going to change as long as we refuse to even try.

However, there is hope.  The conversations are out there, but they’re on the internet rather than the news.  They are the discussions between people on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on.  People regularly engage in debate on these subjects, which is a good sign.  After all, when the news fails to bring attention to the problems, sometimes the common people have to take up the mantle themselves.


Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another one, and as always, have a wonderful week!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s