Sensationalist reporting

November 2, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Nature

A reader responded to my post a couple days ago that the media always has a motivation to sensationalize stories.

Really irresponsible. Lots of rescues of people who should have stayed inside. Two people DEAD because they walked their damn dog & tree fell on them

The past few days I’ve commented on how a storm, while physically devastating, doesn’t have to emotionally devastate you. In fact, like any external situation, you can use it to improve your life. From lower Manhattan I’ve seen people come together, meet neighbors, bond, and so on. I haven’t seen any fights or altercations.

(As a side note unrelated to the reader quoted above, but to some people: If you believe life is supposed to make you happy no matter what, that you’re entitled to whatever you want, I can see how a situation like this storm’s aftermath could bring you down. Where’s your caviar? How can you get a massage to handle this stress?

But to people who believe, even if happiness or emotional reward isn’t owed them or that they’re entitled just for breathing, that they can create it when they want, perhaps through some effort, this situation is like any other in life. The world exists. It does what it does. You have to make your way through life. You have all the tools to create whatever emotion you want. Might as well create happiness, joy, or whatever emotion you want — maybe something based in community, mutual help, appreciation of nature — and the accompanying emotional reward. Then life remains challenging, but you don’t despair. You rise.

Okay, all that was an aside. Back to the media.)

I don’t know these people who died walking their dogs or their motivation to go out.  I don’t know if they saw the news or not. If I speculate, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had an experience like I did — stepping out during what the media billed as a perfect storm to find it wasn’t that bad, and dismissing the shrill reporting as sensationalist.

That is, the sensationalism may have contributed to them going out.

I don’t buy that sensationalist reporting saves lives. In any case, whether it was effective or not in saving lives wasn’t my point. For a page focused on awareness, my point was mainly that should always be aware while reading the news that news organizations are motivated to sensationalize, dramatize, and promote conflict.

Now these people died and I don’t want to imply I don’t feel compassion for people grieving for them. But the gravity of their loss neither justifies sensationalist reporting nor implies it’s effective at anything other than scaring people into watching more news.

People have material losses and will have challenges restoring stability and security. I expect we can do what we can to help each other out. I hope most of us, knowing we can’t change the past, use the experience to improve our lives.

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