There’s an old saying in the media that “if it bleeds, it leads” meaning that if a story has shock value, it goes to the front page or at the beginning of a broadcast. Being a member of the media (which I have a love-hate relationship with), I can vouch for the obvious fact that a shocking headline will attract more clicks and shares than most of the positive or insightful articles that a website publishes.
A good example of this is an article I wrote semi-jokingly about Maurice Bessinger of Columbia, South Carolina who defied desegregation at his restaurant and claimed religious liberty in the same way Hobby Lobby and others have done in recent years in defiance of the Affordable Care Act and LGBT rights.
This story was written last July shortly before my car accident which left me cooped up for a couple of months. During those weeks of sheer boredom, I watched as hundreds of thousands of people shared the story, and many of them commented and shared on Facebook – without reading past the first paragraph or even the headline. The article was intended partially as a social experiment, and over 708,000 views later, I can now understand why a fake story based in zero facts from a website like WorldNewsDailyReport.com or heavily distorted piece from a political clickbait site claiming that Germany was preparing war crimes charges against the Bush Administration would be shared by what appears to be an increasingly gullible public. While some sites like Huffington Post have experimented with doing more positive stories, nothing gets better traffic and ratings than shocking footage of a plane crash, or riot coverage complete with verbal jousting between guests brought on for commentary.
The media doesn’t care about answers, and they hardly cared about Freddie Gray – at least not until the rocks started flying and the fires began to burn. What they do care about is traffic and ratings, which are both dependent on capturing and retaining the public’s collective attention for as long as they possibly can. Once their attention is lost to the newest shiny outrage, they’ll pack up the TV trucks and head on to the next story, and so the cycle starts over again. How many reporters did you see outside the police station asking the hard questions? How many TV pundits cared enough to point out that there were thousands of peaceful protesters, instead of concentrating almost exclusively on the fires and looting that became the focus of their coverage of the entire situation in Baltimore?
The Daily Beast interviewed Morgan Freeman ahead of his newest film Five Flights Up, and the portion they published today centered around his reaction to the media and their treatment of stories like Ferguson and Baltimore.
Freeman says the Baltimore coverage, while fairly one-sided in its focus on the rioting, has been an improvement over the very one-sided coverage of the Ferguson protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s death. “Now, they’re getting more of the whole picture. Ferguson? No. Baltimore seems to be coming up with a different scenario in the background,” says Freeman. “People are saying, ‘You were not all there when we were just talking and trying to make a point, but if we set something on fire, all of a sudden you’re all here. Why is that? What’s the difference?’ And some young reporters are listening. That sort of observation is very useful.”
“The other thing is that technology lets us see behind the scenes a little bit better,” he continues. “Police have a standard reaction to shooting somebody. I fear for my life and I fear for my safety. Now, at least you can see, ‘Hey, his hands were up in the air! What part of your safety were you afraid of? The guy was running away, what part of your safety was in danger?’ There was one situation I saw where a cop told a guy to get out of the car, said, ‘Show me your driver’s license,’ and the guy reached back into the car and the cop shot him!”
“Anyway, off the media,” he says, waving his hands in the air and chuckling. “F-ck the media.” (Source)
At the end of the day, “if it bleeds, it leads” and the media’s refusal to dig into stories can be overcome, but only if we start ignoring those sources who won’t ask the tough questions and only show up for stories they think will get ratings. Politics and social issues have been mixed in with and treated like TMZ celebrity gossip rather than the pressing issues that affect us collectively as a nation. Want to fix this problem? Turn off Fox News and even MSNBC, head over to NPR or click on Reuters instead. Sure, they don’t have the attention-grabbing headlines that guarantee tears or outrage, but these stories matter far more than “10 SHOCKING Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Conservatives” and similar garbage that litters your Facebook feed. There’s plenty of people like my friends Zack Kopplin or Lamar White, Jr. out there digging for the real stories; it’s time we pay attention to the real reporters and say f-ck the rest of the media.
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