I grew up in the Metro DC area, where local news IS national news. This was something I didn’t truly understand as a gift until I moved to a different city. Local news just isn’t the same anywhere else. Despite my not being much of a news watcher in my formative years, I was spoiled by what was available to me. We knew where the President was all the time, and what he was up against, because it was down the road. Laws and issues that were being discussed were on the national scale, because that was what our area was involved in. Looking back, I can see how strange that was, but at the time it seemed totally normal.
Then, when I got older, I ended up married to a military man—which could be a whole blog unto itself, but that’s not why we’re here. Being part of the military life, during active campaigns in foreign lands, gives you an entirely different view of the news. The perspective on what is happening that you get from your actual life can be drastically different from the one you watch during dinner. I actually stopped watching the news altogether while my husband was deployed into war zones. It was just too aggravating to watch stuff that I knew was being reported poorly, or with an agenda of getting ratings. Not to mention the inaccuracies. (I’m gonna take a moment to just make sure everyone knows some basics. If someone is a ‘Soldier’- they are in the Army. A ‘Sailor’ is in the Navy, and a ‘Marine’ is a Marine. Marines are not soldiers, and vice versa. It’s a pretty basic fact that is wrong almost every time in the news. That used to drive me totally bonkers until I took a deep breath and just accepted it.)
I work in the TV industry–I know that it is all a business, including news programs, and I don’t begrudge that one bit. The fact is, sensationalism = ratings = eyes = advertising = the ability to have the show on the air in the first place. Is this the ideal of what news should be? OMG no, not at all, yet it remains the reality. As long as news requires ratings to be on the air, it will never be as balanced as it should be—just not possible, there’s too much competition. As long as there are buyers for a certain style of something, then the industry will provide it. This industry isn’t responsible for making the viewers more savvy. The viewers have to demand it from the industry.
A friend of mine who works in news and I discussed the full perspective that should be portrayed in the news a lot while my husband was gone. She was even more frustrated then me, because she was seeing stories come in that never made it to air. The good things that were being done, the people who appreciated our armed forces’ efforts. All we got to see was the tragedy and upheaval. She wanted so much to be able to put those on the air, to show the full range of what was happening.
Basically, my relationship with the news over my life span has changed from ambivalence, to obsession, to frustration, to acceptance. I think whatever the news ‘should’ be in our society, it’s not going to be any time soon, but we can understand that and find value in it anyway. It’s up to us to train ourselves and the following generations to be critics, and to understand that truth is actually somewhere in the middle of all the perspectives we hear, that the TV news is a business, and only one version of the story. Maybe in a few generations that will become a more prevalent view and news will evolve once again into a source of information that allows you to form your own opinion. Until then, it’s up to those who watch the news to ask for higher quality reporting–because they’re only giving us what we’ll watch right now, and that might be Lindsay Lohan reporting to serve her jail time. That wily Lindsay and all her troubles…. What will happen next?…