Extra! Extra! Read All About…How Extra the News Is

Julia Tran, Staff Writer

I’m not a journalist, I don’t even know if I want to be a journalist. I do know, however, as pretentious as it may sound, that I want to know. I want to know what’s going on in the world, in the country, in my own city– information that matters to me, and probably many others as well. I’m not saying that I want a subscription to The New Yorker, although I sort of do, and read it in a quaint hole-in-the-wall coffee shop as jazz music plays behind me (I don’t like coffee). I just think I hear more about tabloid news, celebrities, and sensationalized news, more than I hear about Syria (I have a vague idea of what’s going on, but at least I know which Kardashians are pregnant).

And I’m not alone. According to the Ramussen Reports, a well-known American polling company, a study done less than 10 years ago found that a whopping 84% of adults feel that their fellow Americans “pay too much attention to celebrity news and not enough attention to news that has a real impact on their lives.”

Now, I understand why people might not want to hear about current affairs. If it’s unrelated to them, why should people care? Besides, the world sucks anyways. It seems like whenever you open up a newspaper or turn on the television, there’s a war, famine, a hurricane, epidemic, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, an alien abduction, the rapture, or a zombie apocalypse going on. By the way, if there’s a zombie apocalypse, you might want to check that you’re on your local news channel and not AMC. Life is already difficult. People don’t want to be sadder. On the other hand, when we shelter ourselves, we’re not protecting ourselves; we end up getting hurt. We miss different perspectives, we miss a call to action, and we miss that chance to connect with another part of the world. We miss out on seeing the whole range of human emotion and behavior. Contrary to popular saying, ignorance is not bliss.   

What we read in the news reflects the values of our country. What we choose to read about informs who we are as people. Bloggers, social media companies, and tabloids flood Western media’s landscape with celebrity news, and this is an issue, we as citizens–as Americans, as humans with a capacity to care and sympathize with others–should all care about.

Now, it’s time for you to choose: What do you want to read?

Of course, there is a lot wrong with journalism today, with a lack of international news or “fake news” or too much clickbait, but the biggest issue is its decline. Newspaper staffs have decreased by 40% since 2003, as reported by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, a non-profit membership organization of editors, producers, and directors of journalistic outlets. Media is everywhere, but where is real hard journalism?

Journalism isn’t just something that Baby Boomers read for fun while they eat their breakfast. Nor is it Buzzfeed articles on Game of Thrones. Real journalism isn’t even the Facebook articles we scroll through during long commutes on the train. Real journalism is work, work-fueled journalism is important. Just look at America’s history, and see how vital journalism is to society’s functioning. From contaminated food (Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle), to child labor in sweatshops, to poor treatment of mental health patients in New York’s institutions (Nelly Bly), all those muckrakers and investigative journalists were running around, in valiant efforts to expose the corruption in their communities. A few years ago, The Boston Globe released a series revealing the tradition of child predation in the Catholic church. This corruption is still rampant in the world, showing a living need for such eye-opening, investigative journalism. Journalism acts as a check and balance for society.  It informs the public so that we are not only aware of what is going on in the world, in our own country, in our cities, but also so that others are held accountable. They are the watchdogs. A manifestation of our rectitude enlivened by reckless yet necessary inquiry.

That is a lot of work.  Journalism is “collecting and verifying facts before publishing them…[adhering] to legal and ethical standards concerning due process at law, avoidance of wrongful harm, and respect for public taste,” says Denis Muller, a Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne.

But anything that is important takes a lot of work.

The future of journalism remains unclear. What is clear is that now, America knows a lot more about its celebrities than the worst humanitarian crisis in the world occurring in Yemen. According to Martin Baron, former chief editor of The Globe and executive editor of The Washington Post, investigative work has become more of “a luxury that might alienate your readership or your advertisers.” This becomes especially prevalent when we examine the news outlets most convenient to us: social media.  If you open your Snapchat Story page, the first generated stories you see are most likely about celebrities and entertainment. Tabloid news is important and does have value in our society: With their coverage of scandals, they “play a fundamental role in democratic cultures,” as reported by Ryan Linkof, a lecturer at the University of Southern California.  But millennials and teens should also know about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and what’s actually going on in Syria. Information and awareness of current events helps inform our policies and what we may want to contribute to. Tabloid news and investigative journalism can coexist, and they should.

At this point, it may seem like the news is out of our hands; we don’t control what Snapchat uploads. Celebrity stories are cheaper than hiring a team of reporters to unveil a serious issue hidden by corrupt systems. Real journalism is work, and work isn’t cheap. Despite all of that, we control what we read and we do have a voice. Isn’t journalism supposed to be OUR voice, racing and raging against injustices? Why watch our watchdogs become lapdogs?

As Americans, we are fortunate to have a free press; a free press is essential to democracy. If no one invests in advocacy journalism and no one does it well anymore because they think we don’t want to hear about it, aren’t we voluntarily giving up that right? Show that you care. Read an edition of The New Yorker, Time magazine, or your local newspaper and see how it changed you. Decide if this is what you want to know.