If It Bleeds it Reads

Stephanie Racker and Emily Bernhardt   Watching or reading the news is downright depressing. Each day, the headlines of every news outlet appear to only be filled with disaster, destruction, and violence. It seems as though the only news reported is “bad news.” Unfortunately, this is the reality of the world in which we all live. Good things happen every day, but reporters and journalists tend to focus on failure instead of success. Consumers of media tend to be more interested in unexpected catastrophe rather than slow, small improvement. Tragedies that involve us, or people like us, are especially intriguing. Stories that we can easily relate to are the ones that we become the most invested in. Mainstream news outlets also perpetuate this idea by only covering outbreaks for a limited amount of time, tending to move onto the next big thing without revisiting the long term effects of an event. After all, why bother focusing on something terrible if it no longer concerns or affects you? For example, we all remember the panic surrounding Ebola and the widespread coverage it received for what seemed like weeks on end. From all of the publicity it drew, it would be easy to assume that Ebola was a common disease in America. However, the chances of an average American coming in contact with the virus was, and still remains, nearly impossible. The reality is that only eleven cases of Ebola have been reported in the US, nine of which were originally contracted outside of the country. The sudden absence of new Ebola cases within America have prompted news sources to stop producing stories about this topic, despite its continuing relevance to those in foreign countries. In fact, in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, flare-ups of the virus last November caused thousands of deaths. In these nations, the virus was, and continues to be, a legitimate threat. Yet, this is hardly spoken of in America, due to our selective priorities. Another topical example of this phenomenon is displayed through the tragic Hurricane Matthew, which is considered the most dangerous storm to hit the US in over a decade. It is known for terrorizing Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, and was covered non-stop throughout early October. In these states, 2.5 million people were requested to evacuate their homes and at least 39 deaths were reported. Flash floods triggered by the hurricane caused even more destruction in Florida weeks after the initial storm hit. Many American schools remained closed for weeks on end due to damage to their buildings and transportation difficulties. In Haiti, the storm proved to be even more deadly, causing over three hundred deaths and leaving tens of thousands of people left homeless and without power or food. Though the storm technically has passed, millions of Americans and Haitians continue to suffer its often-forgotten after-effects. The majority of American news outlets tend to overlook this, moving on to other stories that seem more urgent and desired. The immediate results of the disaster were quickly reported; however, its grave aftermath is no longer discussed. Unless the public still feels connected to these types of tragedies, news coverage diminishes in accordance to the public’s general interest. Although it is rarely admitted, news outlets (especially televised news) have an overarching goal: improved ratings. High ratings are the key to financial success, and without them, people who work in the business may lose their jobs as a result. Consequently, news that isn’t of interest to the average American will not be broadcasted, because these companies can’t afford to lose the interest of their viewers. After all, people are self-centered, and if information does not pertain specifically to them, then they will allow it to slip to the back of their minds. In other words, if the US isn’t directly affected by a crisis, they hold interest in the topic for a limited amount of time. This leaves news sources with the choice to either continue informing the public about a no-longer-relevant headline and potentially risk their jobs, or move on in order to appeal to a targeted audience. So, how does this apply to our school’s news sources? After all, nobody that writes for The Forum is getting paid (though we wish!). No matter how small our audience is, The Forum will still be able to continue releasing new issues, as long as students are willing to write. So, what influences the types stories that we create? Obviously, every piece must make its way through an editing process and meet certain requirements. However, topic-wise, as long as it relates to our school environment and is appropriate, we can hypothetically write about anything. However, some writers avoid  “riskier” topics, possibly because students often feel uncomfortable receiving pushback or criticism on their articles, before or after they’ve been published. Though writing about the lunch lines will not win any creative awards, it’s seen as a “safe” topic, one that likely nobody will voice strong, negative feelings about. Though The Forum is a not national news source, its newer writers still often choose topics based on what their readers will respond well to, or not respond to at all. Despite the efforts made by both the Forum as well as larger scale news outlets to continuously offer coverage regarding the after-effects of catastrophic events, unless the general public and desired audience feels affected on an individual basis by these events, the media won’t spend time covering it as they know it won’t gain them enough traction. In the end, it comes down to the length of time the average individual feels connected by a global event. ]]>