A desensitized public, a press that operates purely as a business and intrusions into privacy and grief are three strikes against modern journalism. I believe there are ways of dealing with and reducing the impact of all three issues.
First, no doubt exists that the public is desensitized to drama, gore and overall bad news. Much of this is not caused by journalists but by the entertainment industry. The problem is that the media has started to adopt the mannerisms of the entertainers because entertainment sells.
Aristotle taught us to avoid extremes and seek moderation. But making the news into a Hollywood production is creating a generation of viewers and readers that aren’t surprised by anything. Headlines are bold and dramatic and television personalities strain out emotion, often trying to force drama into dry subject matter.
That having been said, we should not dryly report the news either. If the news is boring and completely uninteresting, it will be just as bad as it is now.
The solution is professionalism. Needlessly verbose or dramatic headlines should be avoided. Leads should be compelling but not exaggerated. Audio and video reporters should refrain from emoting too much in newscasts, especially in scheduled news programs. Reporters should deliver the news neither theatrically nor monotonously but professionally.
The media as a for-profit business is a problem for journalism while being essential for survival. It is a manageable problem. Managing editors should have a less active role in the selection and prioritization of the news. The delivery of the news should not be a money making mechanism. Money making efforts should be concentrated on advertising revenues, subscription sales (if applicable) and other business activities separate from news reporting. Media can be a business as long as the business isn’t the media.
Finally, impositions on the grief and privacy of people in the news are always concerns in this business. I believe that the dramatic nature of modern journalism contributes to this problem. The solution is to send only select journalists on sensitive assignments. We want more mature journalists with soft, friendly voices and approachable faces. We don’t want journalists who pull the notepad out or stick the microphone in the face of the grieving as soon as they can.
The media needs to establish a rapport with the victims and families, not scare them away. Reporters should approach victims and mourners slowly and unthreateningly. They should sit down with these people and get into a dialog before they start going on the record.
People want to tell their stories. Parents want the world to know all about their dead children. Husbands want to tell the story of their late wives. Journalists can help them do this, but it will require training and the media’s willingness to change.