Under Constant Scrutiny: The Purpose of the Media

By Samuel Wilkes on February 13, 2013

Photo Courtesy of Örlygur Hnefill via Flickr.com


I’ve noticed that over the past few years, there has been a concerted effort to efface the sensationalized habits of the press. As of recent the media has been condemned for glorifying serial killers, commercializing misfortune, and otherwise overstepping the boundaries of social taboo. For this, newspapers and the like are constantly being demonized by civilians that call for censorship and exclusion of some of their messages. Some of the more demonstrative readers even go as far as issuing death threats and hate mail toward the individual writers and reporters of the material. This indignation toward media coverage is not a new thing. Reporters and media conglomerates have repeatedly had to deal with harsh criticisms of their opinions and tactics when they contrast with the opinions of readers.

In 1994 prominent photographer Kevin Carter ended his own life after being ridiculed for taking a picture of a vulture observing a starving child (obviously waiting for that child to die and fortunately he didn’t). Eddie Adams’ photograph of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon was criticized for being too insensitive. The Times was railed for putting a vehicular death on their front page. Deadspin was bashed for their breaking story of Manti Te’o (supposedly they didn’t have all the facts and they didn’t personally know Te’o). And news stations are constantly being scrutinized for their opinions on gun laws.

The tactics that news corporations use to garner attention for the most part shouldn’t be scrutinized. Shock value brings important stories that might otherwise dwindle into inexistence to the forefront of discourse. And the things that frighten us or make us uncomfortable should most definitely never be overlooked. It’s important to understand why certain events happen and how they can be prevented in the future.

Limiting the expression of the media and hampering their ability to freely and openly express news will certainly damage the country, as it has with China, North Korea, and Cuba. Freedom of expression is what this country is built on and it’s important that this foundation stays intact or the infrastructure of our country will be forsaken going into the future.

The issue of news corporations glorifying killers and encouraging copycats should not be taken lightly. Educating the press of facts and stipulations of a tragedy is perfectly fine, but there has to be a discrepancy in which we separate what’s educational from what’s excessive. A perfect example of media gone wrong is the case of Casey Anthony (the mother accused of brutally murdering her child, Caylee.) The trial received tremendous attention via TV and social networks and became somewhat of a circus or parade. Anthony was offered endorsements from Hustler and a Lifetime movie based on the trial, which is now in development. It’s sickening to believe that profit is winning out over morality, but it is. Being able to identify the killer and the crimes that they are associated with is one thing, but drawing our kicks from entertainment that clearly recreates their real-life travesties and transgressions is something totally different.

However, the news shouldn’t hinder in its approach to emphasize breaking news in our society. That approach keeps us in the loop and educated on real-time events. Denying their ability to do this will hurt us more than it can possibly help. Bad things really do happen, and we shouldn’t pretend that they don’t. Out of sight is never out of mind and ignorance is not, and never should be, considered bliss. We have every right to ask the media to be sensitive, but that right shouldn’t be infringed upon by levying violence towards them. Criticisms should remain civil and intelligent. It’s important to remember that in most cases the reporters that are commenting on controversial topics are simply doing their jobs and harbor no “malignant agendas.”

If you would like to recommend changes to how the news is represented or how controversial topics appear in the media please reference: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov

Also Roger Ebert’s Perspective: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2012/12/17/could-the-media-be-at-fault-for-creating-mass-shooters-popular-figure-says-yes/







Samuel Wilkes is a freshman at Clemson University. He's an English/ History double major. He is a weekly contributor to Clemson's student newspaper, "The Tiger." He enjoys writing, drawing, and reading.

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