For many years, I have thought that over the top hyperbole was going to reach a point of no return in our everyday society. Of course, it has really manifested itself when it comes to our written and broadcast news. With the advent of “fake news,” we may have finally reached that point.
Many moons ago, when you had an “Extra” edition of a newspaper come out or a “Special Report” on television that broke into regularly scheduled programming, you knew that you were about to hear an enormous news story where you should be on the edge of your seat.
But in recent times, the news turned into a profit-making business in addition to a service designed to inform the public. That’s when the credibility of the news media, in society’s eyes, began to slide. The quality of a news organization not only depended on the news itself, but how many people saw it. Each outlet was being measured by ratings, so the news (and the way it was delivered) changed that appealed to more people.
We “evolved” from a person behind a desk delivering matter of fact stories, to more visual aids and graphics, to stories designed to evoke more emotions (oftentimes anger or negativity), to soundbites (because attention spans were getting shorter), to more tawdry and titillating topics, to everything becoming “Breaking News.” There are more tactics that can be added to this list, but the general sentiment is that the driving force behind our media is how many people can consume it, not necessarily the story itself.
The problem with that, though, is that it works. As a society, we do consume it in mass quantities. We love to hear about scandal and are drawn to topics that are emotional. There is a side in many of us that has been tapped into where we are hooked on these “stories.”
So, now that it has been proven effective, how does the bar get raised? The first story on the local newscast is always “Breaking News,” no matter if it has to do with murder or a cat stuck in a tree. Where do we go from here?
Well, others have now decided to join in the fun. Bloggers, alternative news sources and pundits were writing stories that presented specific viewpoints that targeted segments of society. These people have always been around, but now, thanks to the internet, they had the same access to readers that the traditional major news media outlets enjoyed for decades. And now, they were going to enjoy the same success and profit (and in many readers’ eyes, credibility) as well.
So, now you’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of “news organizations” with multiple access points to the general public—not just websites, but Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram among many other social media options. Each person can consume only the segment that they want to listen to and discard all the rest. So, that is now the norm. So much so that the original, traditional, credible news organizations are all now labeled as partisan to one philosophy or the other, or even one party or the other. It seems there are no more news organizations that are universally trusted by all sides.
As a society, we suffer if we cannot speak with intelligence with one another. This republic was designed to work through our elected representatives at the state and national levels. The more informed we are regarding the issues, the better job we can do at electing those who can best serve our states and country. Of course, there will always be differing philosophies on how that can occur, and the discourse used to be civil and respectful. Today, it’s common to see on television two people with differing opinions shouting one another down to submission with a lot of talking and little to no listening occurring. But again, ratings show that’s what people want to see today. After watching such spectacles, the general public gains no knowledge and society is not any more informed to participate in our government via elections to make our nation stronger.
So, ultimately, while all of this arguing and noise is going on, everyone is digging in further to their own beliefs and opinions. Nobody is changing their minds or open to discuss ideas with others in a constructive fashion. All the while, additional opportunists are creating “fake news” that appeals to people in these self-constructed compartments.
Who’s to blame? We all are. News organizations focusing on ratings, people wanting to believe what they want and nothing else, politicians focusing more on getting re-elected than governing, everyone has shorter attention spans, and technology makes all of us a little lazier in trying to disseminate what the truth really is.
The media, as it turns out, is just a reflection of the values we hold dear as a society.
So, have we reached the point of no return in our society? What can we do about it? It’s possible that as a collective society we get tired of all this and decide on a different approach. For instance, we did change our national mindset on smoking in a relatively short period of time where the vast majority of Americans now believe it is unhealthy. Maybe America will figure out that this divisiveness, name calling, and hyperbole are things that are actually hurting our country. I believe that most everything self-corrects over the long term, but that doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily see any changes happen in our lifetimes. We’ll see if America wises up sooner or later.