Scouring the Media

Posts Tagged ‘conspiracy theories

News stories have always been sources of information for the public to intake, digest and evaluate. Now, however, many people are beginning to notice that the amount of serious news coverage is dwindling, and that more stories are chosen for by their debate factor.

In a post from the American Journalism Review, Senior Contributing Writer Paul Farhi wrote about Orly Taitz, a lawyer and dentist from California, who is part of the “birther” movement. Birthers believe President Obama was not born in America, and is therefore ineligible to hold the oval office. Farhi wanted to know how such unimportant news became such a media frenzy to begin with.

“Why does a crank like Taitz rate so much attention in the first place?” Farhi wrote.

News outlets are becoming more comfortable with fewer hard news stories and more soft news stories–but the question is why.

“Is a story about the private life of a politician ‘politics’ or ‘entertainment’?” an article from the Media Awareness Network asks. “Is an article about the importance of investing early for retirement a ‘business’ story or a ‘lifestyle’ story? Judging solely on subject matter, it can be difficult to tell.”

Subject matter has always been important for journalists, but with the rise of the World Wide Web, many unfounded underground news stories are starting to gain popularity. Once people notice that the stories are popular, those people may be unable to discover that the source that published the story is misinformed or biased.

“Stories that might have been dismissed as marginal or kooky in an earlier age now command serious scrutiny from mainstream news organizations,” Farhi wrote. “Before there was an Internet, before the explosion of sources of news and commentary, mainstream news organizations could maintain something like a gatekeeper role, downplaying or ignoring stories they deemed unfit for public consumption.”

Farhi cited theories ranging from the birther movement to the ignorance towards Muslims as being some of the topics that often allow for uneducated commentary to get out of hand. Politico writer Ben Smith offered insight as to why.

“[B] elief in obscure, discredited theories is a constant in a country with a history of partisan division — a country in which, a recent survey showed, 34 percent of the public believes in UFOs and 24 percent believes in witches,” wrote Smith.

Even though internet has given rise to many claims, theories, and news stories, it’s still the responsible journalist’s role to sort through the mountain of dirt in order to find a story with real value. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, commented on Farhi’s article.

“We’re in the business to tell people what’s real and what’s not. I know it sounds a little arrogant, but our job, whenever possible, is to tell them the truth,” Jurkowitz wrote.

As Farhi wrote in his article, journalists used to be able to decide the majority of news the public heard. Journalists had time to sift through rumors and weed out the falsehoods in order to make truthful and accurate stories. In this era, journalists still must sift through the bad to find the good–but they also must convince their readers that journalists are trustworthy and have the correct answers. In the end, journalists must continue to present their stories honestly and without bias, while remaining honorable. Sensationalist stories and theories have a place, and it’s not in journalism.