An incurable case of widespread sensationalism

Journalism in America is one presidential callout away from being the victim of the purge

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As everyone who has mustered the willpower to actually read in the past year and a half will most likely already know. While even I may realize that the prior sentence I wrote may delve slightly into hyperbole, entire swaths of professional journalists believe that it is entirely possible.

2018 has seen the highest number of journalists imprisoned, killed, or taken prisoner abroad. Time made Jamal Khashoggi this years cover, etc..

This attack is unpardonable and historically has been a preamble to untold political and humanitarian atrocities, though that is not to say that the current state of journalism is spotless.

The days of New Journalism are already six feet under. Further, the last decade has seen an unprecedented combination of entertainment and information, facilitating the founding of sites like Vox. I myself am in no way a stockade of journalistic excellence to a tee, but watching the creation and subsequent infestation of clickbait run parallel to me as I age is disarming.

Clickbait might as well be the eighth deadly sin of journalism, right behind sensationalism, which is probably number six or seven.

And now I have arrived at the meat of this column. All of my problems with the current state of journalism and my understanding of all of its pitfalls and shortcomings stem from an incurable case of widespread sensationalism, and I think it’s been sick as a dog since opinion news killed Walter Cronkite in a fight to the death. Fox News was the one who buried him and did ungodly things to his grave, and ever since, doing that very thing has bankrolled basically every major television news organization that still sucks air through their fake teeth. Some more than others. CNN, MSNBC and Fox, what have you.

Though that is not to say that Donald Trump and his mites are doing what they’re doing and saying what they are about America’s journalistic institutions because of any of this. Him and his movement lack the ability to think that deeply in my own subjective opinion.  

Sensationalism works itself into the nightly news feverishly. Paranoid mothers and outraged fathers gather around the TV to salivate after headlines propagating that the nearest terrible thing could happen to them. Flu season in inflated into a giant parade balloon that everybody can’t help but cower at. Don’t even get me started on Sinclair.

This only intensifies when marinated in an unhealthy prioritization of timeliness, and the longer we as journalists inject such malpractice into our jobs, the more our audiences attention spans and expectations of the truth deteriorate. The sheer lack of depth in today’s reporting only takes context out of a national argument that is slowly morphing into an international argument that shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s our fault.

I in no way wish to surrogate myself as any kind of print news messiah, but I can’t be too far off in my suggestion that everything was quite a bit better when books outsold magazines and tabloids.

The ultimate publication is one that enriches its readers. No longer should writers and reporters pacify their audience. Just because something didn’t happen an hour before the paper goes to print doesn’t mean that it’s not important or that readers don’t have a right to know about it. If news morphs into a never ending competition for who can be more relevant, then the ‘15 minutes of fame’ prophesied by Andy Warhol will become something terrifyingly. I don’t want to live in that world, and I don’t think anybody else besides Andy Warhol does either.

The ultimate publication reports on what people should care about, it doesn’t bend over backwards to report on what people already care about. Like can you imagine if Benjamin Franklin traveled into the future and saw the Daily Mail.

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