Evening the Scales

June 21, 2014
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It’s eleven o’clock at night; the dishwasher is running, the sounds from upstairs have quieted down, and the television plays the first few chords of the nightly news opening. All seems to be well, correct? But then, drifting from the depths of the living room, begins a story --- only a glimpse of what’s to come --- and the words are striking. Breaking, deceased, emergency personnel, intoxicated, words that we all have become familiar with and, to a point, expecting. One doesn’t turn to the news channel for warmth and coddling; we know what we sign up for every time our fingers hit the well-worn numbers for our local news channel. But, just because happiness and hope aren’t what we are anticipating, that doesn’t mean it’s not what we need or, at the very least, deserve.

There’s a pattern in modern journalism that has cropped up over the years, especially on nightly newscasts and large broadcasting platforms: the sandwich method. Stories arranged in such a way that, while it doesn’t cut down on the depressing factor of reality, it leaves the viewer with something less than a bitter taste in his mouth.

The most dramatic local story is generally covered first --- anything from a deadly shooting to a sexual predator --- followed by slightly less tragic occurrences. Then, to shoot the dark nature of journalism through with a bit of light, news channels tend to inject a reassuring story near the middle of the broadcast; a rescue, a trial won in the favour of the innocent, or a charity function all serve their purpose well. Cut to a vivid and intense national issue, the Middle East as of late, and it’s back to local shootings and robberies. Finally, just as the viewers are beginning to doubt the merit of watching such a disheartening newscast, the night ends on a high note --- another spike of faith in the community.

Thus, the sandwich method.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching the news as much as any other citizen. It plays in the morning, a soothing background update on weather and traffic, on the radio, a way to catch up on important current events while driving, and even lulls me to sleep on particularly late nights. Recently, however, I’ve discovered that the common newscasts have been lacking in their delivery. Journalism, as defined by Tony Harcup, is a “method of inquiry and literary style that aims to provide a service to the public”. Expanding further on that, the entire field is based on the principles of truth, disclosure, and independence. Supposedly. While I’m not disputing the fact that journalism covers topics in stark reality, I’m also not agreeing entirely with many of the recent trends. In short, it’s not the ‘why’ that concerns me, it’s not even the ‘what’ --- it’s the ‘how’.

Journalism, to me, is entirely about balance. Balance the black with the white with the grey areas, balance differing political views, balance interviews and quotes, balance scripted writing and ad-libs. Recently, though, the balance between good and bad has tipped far more in favour of the latter, and the lighthearted stories that do make it past inspection never seem to be nearly enough. A man rescued from drowning off the nearby shore is wonderful, fantastic even, but when you live five miles from the beach, it’s not necessarily the sort of anecdote that ends with grins of joy. At best, it results in a smile and appreciative nod --- one more man lived today. All of this would be entirely fine, no need for apprehension, if not for one alarming fact: negative stories, sensationalised tragedies, have much more air time than anything remotely positive. Balance has effectively been lost.

It’s not necessarily a matter of evening out the number of negative versus positive stories, but, really, the content that lies within each. For all of its foibles, journalism still prevails as one of the most important jobs in modern day society. The public at large wholly depends on the newspapers and broadcasts to provide them with current events, with information, with the truth. How can you ever claim to be honest, when the population only hears one side of the world’s events?

War is common and people are dying every day, innocent blood spilled on streets that should hold no stains. This deserves to be covered. This deserves to be talked about. But, also, love is common and people are saved every day, spirits lifted by their own accomplishments and the courage of those brave enough to speak out. This deserves to be covered. This deserves to be talked about. Not every once in a while, not to fill the positive highlight of a nightly newscast, not as a brief candle to brighten up the dark prospects of our world, but in equal fervor as the former. Journalism is about truth, yes, but it is also about hope.

People quickly lose interest if a there is too much favour for one side of the scales --- society wants pros and cons, we need each in evenly matched proportions. For every shooting, there is miracle child born. For every massacre, there is a generation fighting against the injustice. For every negative event, there is an equal and opposite one and, if we’re lucky, the positive may just be stronger.





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