By Caitlin Schiffer
In today’s world, the internet guzzles practically every bit of information, useless, meaningful, or otherwise. Everything seems to make it onto the news nowadays and general consensus rules that the media has taken a turn for the worst, sporting stories of Kim Kardashian or Charlie Sheen on their cover pages rather than meaningful news-worthy pieces. However, individuals should judge the media on its response and performance during significant events. After all, can anyone blame the media for releasing fluff on a slow news day? Unfortunately in recent months’ tragedies, the most delicate of news stories have tested the media’s effectiveness, varying from bombings to rape trials. Has the mass media proven itself worthy of informing and educating?
Before any analysis can even be made, it is important to recognize today’s media as a whole is not just a single entity. The “mass media” encompasses not only news networks and distributors, but also (in recent history) social networks and the Internet itself, which has proven on countless to occasions its worth as an instant source of news. Owners of a Twitter account have the ability to spread information to over 554,750,000 other Twitter users, a number which is growing on a daily basis and doesn’t even factor in the countless numbers coming from other social network sources. So many individuals are ‘addicted’ to these social networking sites that they view live-breaking news (sometimes from eye-witnesses) as they are updating their statuses or scrolling through their newsfeed. And of course most of these news stories are credible. After all, who better to give you your news than a complete stranger claiming to have witnessed the act?
Regardless of how credible social networking can be as a news source (“Justin Beiber iz ded 4 realzys dis tyme guyz”), its ability to spread information is certainly to be commended and considered in the future. During the recent Boston Bombing and the valiant man-hunt that ensued afterwards, individuals were able to keep up-to-date on all of the happenings of the area through Twitter and Facebook. Relatives could gain some relief in reading updates online. Even more importantly during this catastrophic tragedy, individuals heartbroken over this mindless and unwarranted bombing could read news stories of hope. NBC News’s official Twitter provided the nation and in turn the world with a signal of hope for humanity; runners who completed the Boston Marathon that were unaffected by the bombings, after running an entire marathon mind you, ran an additional two miles to the nearest hospital to donate blood for the vast amount of injured individuals hurt by the bombing. Pictures spread over Facebook did not just display the gruesome pictures depicting loss of life, heavy injury, and broken dreams, but also the pictures of individuals comforting one another and residents opening their homes to any runners who needed a place to stay. Indeed, the mass media had handled itself proudly in this moment, portraying the tragic to inform and empathize, but also the hopeful in order to uplift if only just a little.
Alternately, the “mass media” does not just encompass social networking. News sources, previously the most effective way of gaining information, did not fair very well in their ability to provide individuals with up-to-date information. Whereas social networking sites have the ability to update when there is something to update with no monetary benefit on anyone’s end, TV networks and online news sources need to maintain their viewership. In addition, each source is competing against the other in a race to be the first network to give that new crucial piece of information. Such a need to report the information first “justifies” using a less than stellar news source to run a story. Once again with the recent bombings, many were unsure who could possibly seek to bomb such an innocent event. Thus, the media’s ugly side emerged, licking its chops and ready to profit. Reports flew left and right that the suspect was Caucasian or Muslim or African American, sending mixed signals about race every which way and offending many minorities. The suspects were tall, thin, fat, skinny, male, female, in-custody, and on-the-run. This side of the media did not help at all in satisfying the public’s need for information nor in calming their nerves, though eventually the news sources did get their information right.
Maybe it isn’t fair to judge the major news networks so harshly. After all, social networking still held the same fatal flaws. Several pictures floated about several websites, indicating men walking on the tops of buildings and seemingly guilty faces within crowds. Such pictures were captioned with some variation of “I’m not sure this man/woman is the bomber obviously, but this could mean something. Reblog so the police can see”. The poor police force certainly was bombarded with false calls that day. Likewise, social networking sent several inhabitants of other major cities into a tail spin of hysterics when claims of other potential bombings started to make their rounds. Of course security had tightened across the board after the breach of security in Boston, but later reports indicated that there hadn’t been any other threat in Boston or out following the bombings … except for the two suspects running at large that is.
Ultimately, the United States population must realize that although these bouts of frenzy over tragedies can cause confusion and are generally unbeneficial to the public itself, only adding to the hysterics, the mass media is more humane than ever before. With social networking becoming the cream of the mass media news crops, real people have the ability to give information rather than the trained professional newscasters of yesterday. Emotions will get thrown into the mix if only because normal individuals do not regularly hold the ability to cope with threatening situations. If lives are at stake, of course John Smith around the corner will become upset. He may even become hysterical if the situation is dire and personal enough. In this way, individuals must recognize the sudden source of every sudden error; everything has become intricately more interwoven as the Internet brings individuals together.
Some may argue that news networks and social networks should not factor emotion into their provision of news. After all, shouldn’t the viewer/reader be the one making decisions? As the mass media becomes increasingly more interwoven with emotion, the entire system becomes more and more a system of checks and balances. Back in the 1900s, the average newsreader bought a newspaper and accepted the contents there as true; there was no other way to acquire information. However, in today’s Internet driven world, nobody can say anything considered offensive or false without somebody else within the mass media correcting them. For example, CNN recently covered the Steubenville rape case, in which a few high school boys were convicted and found guilty of sexual assault and rape. As the final ruling was announced, Candy Crowley and Poppy Harlow commentated how these young boys’ lives were ‘ruined’ and how they had such a huge career ahead of them. Does this demonstrate how the mass media as a whole is on the downswing? Not so. After watching Crowley and Harlow sympathize with the rapists (substantial evidence backing this title), the Internet went to work demanding CNN remedy this blunder and extend an apology. Although no apology ever appeared, individuals were able to recognize the fault in the story and rebel against it. Flaws in the media are not overlooked, but are instead overcome and criticized. This obviously shows how individuals have started to develop their own opinions separate from news media. Even with the new increased integration of emotion into news, people do not simply go along with the newscast, but instead add their own opinion. Thus, the news itself is self-remedying, with one side correcting the other, proving each branches’ independence.
So final verdict: has the media been effective in portraying tragic events? The answer is mixed depending on each individual’s point of view. The mass media shares weaknesses as well as strengths. While news is spread more quickly than ever, it can be less than credible and even false on several occasions. Additionally, emotions play a larger part in information with each passing day. However, do not underestimate the media’s ability to bring hope in the most unlikely of times. With each negative or distressful post, plenty other positive and hopeful posts spring up. Negative or positive, the mass media is a source of strength in times of hardship, bringing individuals together. And in the end, that’s all the media can really do to make a horrific situation any better.