On Sunday night, November 30th, I sat down on my couch after a nice take out dinner with my mother to get all cozy to watch a new episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Oh yes, I watch that too. As I looked through the TV guide just to see what I could watch before 8pm, I first noticed that there was still a new episode of Madam Secretary over on CBS. Oh yes, unlike all other network shows, they had not gone on winter break yet, and I got excited. (Sidebar: That is one of my new favorites) I got even more excited because I realized I could watch its predecessor 60 Minutes to not only fill the time before the episode but also catch up some more about any current events. As 60 Minutes began with their overview of the show, one story really stuck out to me. It was about an ex-lion trainer who purchased a significant amount of land for full-grown lions to live in after they are given away from amusement parks. Because he had raised most of them from when they were young, the lions accepted him as one of their own as he played around in the grass and walked the land with them. I love lions so I was making sure to catch that story. But it was after 60 Minutes reviewed their whole line-up of other stories that I finally asked myself, 60 Minutes, and my mother: “And what about Ferguson?”
The grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown had happened four days prior and inspired a large number of protests in Ferguson and all around the country following into the week. So imagine my surprise when 60 Minutes, a prominent news journal that covers so many international, national pieces of digging into society and the government (like their piece a month earlier into the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)), did not have one produced piece on these protests, or even at minimum, the decision. So after I asked that question to myself, 60 Minutes, and my mom, the only audible response I received was: “They were tired of it”.
Two nights later on December 2nd, after any big development in America, I sought out a political favorite of mine: The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart, always with the funny but logical sense, tied the ongoing protests and subsequent attempts at explanations from various correspondents into a news story termed “Instigate”. Through a compilation of soundbites from news commentators and “politicos” about Ferguson, Stewart poked holes in any explanation and descriptions these news anchors had relayed to their viewers. I laughed. Ohhh did I laugh a lot; but then I also thought. I thought the same way I did when my mom answered me with that biting response:
Dang, Broadcast Media Really Can’t Get It Right
Let me start out by saying I rarely watch news for many reasons, but the main one is that I always seems to find something a little off about the style of reporting. They’re not telling us everything or what exactly are they trying to tell us or I have heard it before, I don’t care are just some of the things I think about. But I am one person, a person with an education in media, opposed to the millions of viewers that tune in every night to one of these broadcasts to catch up on breaking stories and developments both local and national. Historically the news media is considered to be a fourth estate in society because of its position to inform and at many times influence the public, so it still makes sense that viewers would be tuning in. However, I have come to find that even though the influence seems to maintain its strength, that informing part is becoming more obsolete.
When my mom proposed that the reason 60 Minutes was not covering Ferguson in their weekly special was because there had been so much more coverage before that “they were tired of it”, my next thought kind of was: but that is not their choice to make. Critically I know that airing a certain segment is exactly their choice, but there are other factors that filter into that ultimate decision that most are not aware about making that choice a little sketchy. Ownership, political affiliation, and advertising are some of the main factors, but ratings reign supreme. Broadcast news have diverted themselves into the area of entertainment programming with a strong focus more on not just their viewership, but exactly how many viewers are watching. FOX News is becoming everyones’ competition and as a result, what viewers are really getting and what I have seen from different broadcasts, especially during this time of tumultuous events in America are more: heightened and critical opinions, purposely juxtaposed positions, more focus on the sensationalizing parts of stories, “facey” showmen, and blatant “we’ve called you up to speak on this because you’re like them” or “Rev. Al Sharpton knows why” diversity. Now some of these aspects are needed when looking more in-depth into a matter for a special news reports, that is understandable; because if you’re watching television, a bit of you still needs to be captivated and every network/program knows that. Even PBS has that memo. However, it becomes a recognizable problem with broadcast media when these factors are used in an everyday matter overshadowing the main job of a news outlet: informing the public.
Throughout everything that was developing from Ferguson, from the day of the shooting through the release of evidence, the first wave of protests to the grand jury decision and then the subsequent national protests, my source of news has been from online mediums. Some may think print media is a dying source, however I believe it is becoming stronger than ever within the electronic realm. Even earlier this week, after first receiving a news alert on my phone about another no indictment from a grand jury in Staten Island for NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, I did not go to a TV but went to social media to see what others and online news were saying. We live in an age when everything can be seen in an instance and our print media has become more instant than ever. Most breaking news I gathered came from my computer or phone through an online version of a print medium i.e. Michael Brown’s autopsy showing he was shot at least six times and reflective pieces that can strike a critical thought with its reader like Time’s What History Books Should Say About Ferguson or anything else from online magazines like Slate, Complex and The Daily Beast. These were the ones that showed more images of the peaceful protests and range of both personal and public emotions rather than a focus on any violence or rage from protestors and in turn, victimizing the aggressor. Online sources produced constant pieces from their staff, releasing the Ferguson grand jury transcript later that evening of the decision with no sideline commentary while broadcast took the transcript and nitpicked at Wilson’s testimony with repetition of certain phrases and theories throughout the day that one could read about on their own. There is also a certain anonymity from a writer that an anchor does not have. When I am reading an article I hear it in my voice if I am agreeing or even disagreeing contrary to hearing and seeing the bias ooze from a Don Lemon at CNN or Sean Hannity on FOX News with every remark they make. Yes, two different cable networks but when you take away the supposed political party bias, the same concept. And although online media is no angel of a source too, it definitely has its flaws (see: The Article that Cried Angry Black Woman), it still has so much more variety than being confined to a broadcast where you are not sure of what you are hearing is journalistic integrity or someone who thinks their point of view is the right one to be heard.
Point blank: online journalism has figured out a better way to inform the public directly while broadcast is still trying to figure out how to mold their audience into something they can directly report to. I am not sure why 60 Minutes decided not to cover the Ferguson decision and national protests, but instead a man’s bond with lions; or why is it so darn easy for Jon Stewart’s team to gather so much material from national broadcasts for a comedic exposé in which he still makes a deeper critical analysis in nine minutes than their 24-hour coverage. But maybe 60 Minutes is saving their story for this week’s special or at some point Stewart won’t be able to gather an hour worth of jokes from news correspondents on such serious coverage. Things don’t make much sense nowadays, especially when it comes from the media. The best thing to do is to keep your standards low and don’t expect them to get it right. It also makes for good sport because when they actually do – get it right – ohh is it a great thing to see!