Saturday, July 5, 2008

News Views

Producers and editors decide what to show in the news and without question the public dutifully absorbs whatever tidbits they are thrown. The stories may be about hostages and wildfires but viewers and readers rarely complain about being held hostage by their televisions while being fried at the flanks.

We have 24-hour news services but they only run the same stories repeatedly. And anyone in a hurry has the option of a 24-hour headline channel! Instead of digging for news and offering stories in ways that might present a broader scope of issues, the media has gotten tunnel vision focusing on the almighty dollar.

Recent coverage focused on the rescue of hostages in Columbia. Reports revealed a simplistic plan: locate the hostages, fly a helicopter in and take the hostages out. The helicopter was an old one previously used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC). Oddly enough, when the chopper landed, and the rescuers pretended to be part of FARC saying, "We're moving the hostages" the real FARC didn't think about the fact that they no longer use helicopters!

This leaves lots of questions but the media will probably never pursue the answers. Why would rescuers risk using an old unused chopper? Why did it take the Colombian military more than five years to come up with this brilliant idea? Hollywood comes up with movies like this all the time! These wonderfully quick news stories also obscured details such as a total of 15 people were rescued. The blurbs mainly talked about the three Americans and Ingrid Betancourt, the French-Colombian political candidate. What about other hostage situations in the world? They happen yet the media doesn't seem to dwell on these incidents unless it is a media person or someone that is a high profile victim. Even then, if there is no activity for a few days, the media moves on.

Years ago, news reports actually had a running count of days the Iranian hostages were held. Each day something was announced regarding the atrocity. How unfortunate for the Colombian hostages that this form of publicity was forgotten. Perhaps with the media continually asking for status reports the rescuing governments would have to focus more on their strategies and the hostage takers would either have opportunity to tell their side or have the world enlightened to their guerrilla tactics.

As for the almighty dollar, the media has fallen victim to the pressures of advertisers and board room antics. The bottom line must be in black with significant cushion for the executives. In the meantime, reporters, like the rest of the general public, are forced to produce more with less. No one has the time to investigate the potential stories. Budgets are tightened, resources reduced and salaries held low. The reporter is forced to grab what flashes in front of him. Much like the search for lightning bugs on a hot summer evening, the ones that fly closest and brightest are more likely to end up caught and placed in the soda bottle. If the thumb doesn't remain tight on the bottle neck, then a story might escape. Eventually, the bottle comes inside for the contents to be examined, dissected and capped. Without enough breathing room and nutrition, the stories die overnight, just like the poor firefly. No one notices the dead ones though because they will be tossed quietly and replaced with a whole new batch that will light up the next evening's sky.

As world citizens, the public must demand more from their media services. No one should be happy just watching a flickering bug on occasion. Instead, our news sky needs to be lit up, making constellations out of the connections that can be made. Create a quick map of the world showing hostage situations, who is involved and why. Show the acreage that is being lost to arson, careless campers and lightening strikes by mother nature. The country should be shown ablaze like the map of Bonanza, after all a picture is always worth 1,000 words. Quit repeating stories every 10 minutes. Set schedules with headlines at the top of the hour followed by a tour of the world with news stories. After an hour around the world, go back to the headlines.

Part of the problem with the media is a lack of employees with critical thinking skills. Perhaps this is the problem with the world in general. Reporters don't always know what to ask, as though they are already supposed to have the answers. They find it easier to nod their heads and take notes rather than stopping the speaker for clarity. Some may ask questions but skew the answers because they don't understand the intent. If a child comes running in screaming that Little Timmy had his leg cut off by a car, the average adult would go investigate before assuming the story were correct. The outcome would probably reveal Timmy got a minor gash on the knee when cycling into a car bumper. Why, then, would anyone accept at face value a news story that is full of holes?

Viewers and readers need to demonstrate the importance of getting complete and accurate news. Demand clarity and praise intensity. Whatever you do, don't just sit baaaaack and aaaaaaccept mediocrity.

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