A Journalist’s Dilemma


I’ve come across so many people lately who don’t watch the news on TV or read about in papers.   A month ago I was part of that group.   I used to watch the news every day, and read papers fairly regularly, but all I could get on TV was South African news.   Didn’t have much access to internet, so my news sources were pretty limited.

I got so sick of what the South African media was focusing on and feeding through to the public.   Big headlines are always about “piss shit and corruption”.   In South Africa that translates into corruption, violent crime in general and that against women and children, and the African National Congress’s descent from the heights it was at when Nelson Mandela was president.

Any outside world happenings that shoved South African news off the top of the list were just as bad.  World paranoia, increasing polarization, people taking their anger out on innocents, abuse of power.   I’ve watched people soak that stuff up and bask in the horror of it – as they do in the gloom and doom perspective it creates.   No crime can be violent enough, no disaster tragic enough to satiate the public feeding frenzy.

Whew. I began to wonder where freedom of the press and of speech is leading us as a race.    Everyone says that the news only provides what people want, it’s a symbiotic relationship, but I wonder about that.   A lot of people don’t know what they want.   They’ve been so conditioned to believe that the news has to be about violence against the better side of human nature.    The media takes advantage of that.   Maybe it could just as easily print all the good stuff and soon people would be lapping it up, who knows?

Debating aside, I took the easy way out.   Switched it all off.   And for a while it was very nice.   I used my TV to watch educational stuff like Numb3rs and Law and Order where I could see justice happening usually.   The good guys win over the bad guys.   I kept all the bad news away from me and lived happily in my ivory tower.   The world passed me by and I didn’t care.

Or thought I didn’t.   Obviously I did, because when I was offered a short job writing breaking news stories I jumped at it.   So I’m back in the fray, but now I’m one of the ones choosing what to feed to people.   I’m hardly setting the Thames on fire or influencing world opinion, but I am contributing and who knows where it will lead?

I get paid for how many people read my small breaking news articles.   CNN online news and other sources all show which stories are the most popular around the world.   It makes financial sense to choose those as my topics, yes?   But here’s the thing.  It’s all piss, shit and corruption.   Go figure.   Well, I can either do what too many people are already doing because it works – join in the feeding frenzy, make my stories as gloomy and fear-fostering as possible, and make better money.  Seductive.   But goes rather against the grain – and is mind-numbingly boring.

Or else I don’t join in the fear-fostering – and also choose stories which can reflect that life on this planet is moving in a positive direction.   This probably won’t garner the feeding frenzy market.    More likely to be interesting to write, though, and at least I can sleep at night.

Plus I’ve got a sneaking feeling that there’s an untapped market out there, that people don’t want to be out of touch, they just want to be allowed to retain their optimism about life.   I can understand that.

And let’s face it; if I’m going to be a journalist I might as well at least try to be an intelligent one.

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3 thoughts on “A Journalist’s Dilemma

  1. Well said, J. I totally agree with you – about being fed ghast and gloom from the media – I only read our local paper and watch one news broadcast. I like to know whats happening OUTSIDE out boundries. This is where the USA journalists, have a lot to learn! And the public. In a way our local press does tell us what outside our boundry – even if its a neighbouring orientering or hand ball team result! Fine!
    But seriously – take Greece.
    At the moment, I would like to know how and what the average Greek family will have to cut back on to support their countrys’ economic condition. The islanders certainly didn’t have much before.
    Is this EEC such a benefit after all? Don’t think so – but I’d be cried down- by some ! Our referendom kept Norway out , yay!
    We heard last night that SA is staging the FA cup in the most violent capital in the world – murder, the main. Charming, but I fear its a correct opinion. Africa had to stage this event. I hope it doesn’t ruin their reputation further .
    The volcano in Iceland is have its ‘say ‘ again – airtraffic is stopped in S.Spain.
    What is nature telling us ??
    Must dash –
    I’m so pleased you’ve got this job ….go girl!
    xxx

    • Hi Faye! Love your comment! I think most countries are obsessed with their own news, which is understandable to a certain extent, but it does create a very parochial view. I’ve heard people in the US, Italy, France, Greece (!), UK, Zimbabwe, South Africa all say that things happening elsewhere would never happen in their country, which is the best in the world! Nationalism is alive and kicking…

      As for individual stories – the major news syndicates don’t generally feed them to us unless they’re massively dramatic; we have to look for them. I wonder how many people agree with you – it would be interesting to know. Everybody I’ve spoken to lately says the same thing as you. Food for thought.

      I don’t think US journalists are any worse than others – and in their defense, CNN online covers the world in quite some depth – within the parameters of the ghastly stuff! Some nice stories, but they’re few and far between.

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