Dan Fincke (Camels with Hammers) shared Ozy Frantz‘s post On Boston so I went ahead and read it.
As a journalist I have come to know about some popular ideas about how the media works that are plain wrong, although, sadly, they’re quite spread. I’m afraid Frantz’s post’s main point revolves around two of these:
I think my biggest grudge against news coverage of public violence, though, is that it makes people afraid. Perhaps because I have an anxiety disorder, I am pissed off at people being made afraid of something that they shouldn’t have to be afraid of.
Let me be clear: I am not policing your response to public violence. I was scared too. It is perfectly natural to be scared when people are covering some shocking act of public violence 24/7; that’s just how brains work. It’s as if the news decided to have 24/7 coverage every time an orphaned puppy got brain cancer. It is perfectly normal to be sad when orphaned puppies have brain cancer; it is also perfectly fair to be upset that the news is making a bunch of people sad for no reason.
Actually, that’s not how media works.
First of all, people have different fear thresholds and triggers, so it is impossible to manufacture a message in order to “make people afraid“, or to make every person in the world feel any other specific emotion. And why would anyone else be accountable for your own feelings? That’s a strange point of view on responsability to hold – especially, since no one is forcing you to watch the news. In the Internet age, I find it odd you don’t click on the Sports tab, if that’s your kind of news.
Why would you torture yourself and go through that kind of discomfort? Unless you’re into sadomasochism or the likes, and that’s (way to twisted for my taste but) fine… let’s not blame the media for this!
Second of all, media shows what the public asks for. And it’s understandable people want to know as much as possible of a news story this big. If you’re in the news business (and trust me, you want it to keep them businesses instead of all of them being State-owned media) and you don’t cover the breaking news, your competition will, and they will get most of their audience and the clicks and if you keep on refusing to show ‘scary’ news, you’ll be out of business before you even notice it.
I guess that’s my two cents about ethical responsabilities when confronted with shocking public violence: let’s not blame the media for what the audiences are asking for, and please, let’s not hold them accountable for our feelings.