Working in the media industry it’s especially frustrating to see that most news is bad news.
Not so much in a small rural community, but reading the national headlines and even those of suburban papers it’s disheartening to see that what sells is often the sad and sensational stories.
I spoke to my distraught sister on the phone last week when she told me she refused to watch the news any longer after seeing coverage detailing the death of a three-year-old boy involved in a quadding accident.
The story upset my sister who said she didn’t want to tune in to see images of death and tragedy laid out on national news night after night.
Every so often there are stories and images that we hear and see that we wish we hadn’t.
There was quite a controversy in my hometown a few weeks ago after the paper I previously interned at received a backlash of feedback and criticism for publishing a front-page photo of a man jumping from a highway overpass (in an assumed attempt to end his life). The photo clearly illustrated the man’s distress, with police making efforts to prevent the man from falling onto the highway into a plethora of rush-hour traffic.
But, behind every story is another story. Behind every decision is a reason.
Perhaps the producer of the news cast aired the story of the father and son tragedy to open viewers’ eyes to the dangers and risks of quadding. Maybe the editor of the newspaper chose to publish those photos because of the horror that hundreds of commuters were forced to witness or the hazard and distraction it could have easily presented.
The news industry is not guided by laws as much as it is by ethics.
Sound judgement and unwavering ethics are at the heart of journalism. You may have the legal right to publish certain information, but do you have the ethical right?
In the academics of journalism it’s known as “ethical reasoning” where upon reporters and editors are called upon to use several methods to justify their decisions; discussing the issue and the possible consequences of publication before making the decision. It’s important to consider how newsworthy the story is and whether the public really needs the particular information.
There are some individuals in the world, celebrities included, that use the media to their advantage to further a cause, promote a product or elevate their status. One of the latest and most disturbing examples of this is the Norway anti-Islamic gunman Anders Behring Breivik. Speaking in short, because I don’t want to give him more attention than he’s already received, Breivik hopes to use the media to further his cause and disseminate his message of hate. Breivik is on trial for killing 77 people on July 22, 2011, when he detonated a bomb in the centre of Oslo, before heading to a youth camp and gunning down his victims.
Breivik’s testimony will not be broadcast on television due to concerns that the gunman could use the trial as propaganda for his cause. The decision to keep his testimony quiet is a precaution that I credit the media and government for making. Breivik acknowledged the power and influence of media as he wrote in a manual for future attackers, “Your arrest will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase. Your trial offers you a stage to the world.”
Editors, producers, writers and reporters must accept and acknowledge the responsibility they have to make the appropriate decisions when determining newsworthiness. Sometimes the revenue earned through advertising and sales isn’t worth the sacrifice of ethics.
Media must deliver with care and audiences must receive with caution.
“All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level,” said William Bernbach, of DDB Needham Worldwide, 1989.