I was reflecting on the issues raised by Kansas City Star web readers that the Star was being deliberately provocative with their headline. It got me to thinking about news media in general and local news in particular. They want to grab your eyeballs and not let you go. That's how they make money, by getting you to watch. Thus, "It bleeds, it leads." Also, crime stories along with auto accidents, fires and other things involving lights and sirens are easy to report. This is what happened, here's the police/fire department, here are the victims--"How do you feel?"--cool pics of flames, mangled cars, crime tape.
There are problems with this: News without nifty pictures, that require a little bit of analysis get little or no coverage. So news about money, economy, politics don't get covered very well--and get little or no television time. TV reporters, especially in a midsize market like KC are shuffled in and out of here pretty quickly, and they don't get the opportunity to get to know the town and its power players. This makes the serial layoffs at the local broadsheet even more of a problem because for long format stuff you can't beat the newspaper. The end result? No one has the time, money or experience to do deep stories that really teach the public about something important, like the political process or economics.
Outcome of this? Crime stories emerge bigger than life, which can generate disproportionate fear. Stories that involve less sensational material are neglected and not reported. The population gets ignorant about important things like politics and economics. The interested start looking for alternatives--I think this is part of the reason talk radio has succeeded in fact--Rush and his successors take the time on the radio, often 20 minutes or more, to talk through a topic. Yes, the information has an opinion, but the opinion came with the information.
What to do? I personally want almost no restraint on the freedom of speech. It's such a slippery slope, especially when it comes to the government having any say. It's not far to having those expressing minority opinions having to flee for their lives as is happening in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Right now, the market has the most influence on mass media. What attracts eyeballs? What will not offend advertisers? I think as you read media, read the news, watch the news, remember that the goal of the presenters is not just to inform, but also to entertain. Thus, you need to bring your brain with you when you watch or read. Use multiple sources. Not sure what something is? Wondering about that amendment to the Constitution? Something just sounds too weird to be true? There's a slant and you'd like to see the topic from the other direction? There's this wonderful thing called the Internet where just about anything about anything can be found. Of course, the same rules apply...
We want to be told stuff. We are more than willing to be led about by the nose. We like the strange, the violent, the weird and the prurient. We get lazy. The problem is the world is a lot more complex than it used to be. Mindless media consumption is not something that a person can afford to do in these complex times.
Meantime our 77 year old man has not turned up yet. Our prayers to his family and for the searchers as they look for him.