The way the news media work on our consciousness in this curious
all-news-all-the-time age of ours is that only one or two news events
are presented front and center, with virtually all of the news providers
focusing on the same stories, albeit from differing angles depending on
the bias of the reporters and editors.
Natural and man-made disasters usually stand out, but political events,
domestic and international, also force themselves on to this news media
The news media, being what it has become, overplays virtually every one
of these central and dominating news stories. Sometimes the story is
relatively accurately presented; often the "facts" are distorted. Some
outlets strive to provide perspective; others dwell on sensational aspects.
Once the momentum of a news story is established, there is no stopping
it until its "coverage" is played out, and it is inevitably replaced with
Of course, numerous other news stories and events are always being
presented simultaneously, and technically compete for the news consumer's
attention, but the emphasis on presentation is usually somehow "determined"
by invisible sources, sentimentalized, exaggerated and exhausted often long
after most of the public's interest has waned.
This is probably the way it has always been, even before the telegraph, radio
and television, before cable and the internet, before all the technologies which
In fact, there are billions of news events, tiny and grand, important and
irrelevant, taking place on the planet at any given moment. So the dissemination
of news, always determined by subjective forces, some of them economic and
some of them political, is one of the most complicated phenomena of any
modern era, especially when there is also, in some places, authoritarian control
of the news, censorship and deliberate and repeated distortion of most news to
fit certain ideological goals.
One of the more encouraging aspects of these circumstances is the long-term
"revolt of the masses" in which individuals and like-minded groups, on a massive
scale, can ignore the powerful forces which impose the selection of news stories,
and their presentation, and seek out alternative news providers which might turn
their attention to alternative news events. This is the effect of an open market of
news, and it flourishes in our own time as perhaps it has not previously. Where
media markets are totally closed, such as in North Korea and Cuba, or partially
closed, such as in China, Venezuela and many Middle Eastern nations, the
marketplace of news is inhibited and lacks true choice.
There is a reason why I have brought up this short discussion. It is my belief that
there are always, at an given moment, a relatively large number of very
important news developments in the nation and in the world, and that the
gravity of these events is such that the "ordinary" news consumer is well-advised
to be more aware and more alert than ever before. I say this because however
distant new events may seem, more and more they, in my opinion, have direct
impact on each of us, especially over time.
I am not suggesting that every adult man and woman in the U.S. should become
obsessed with the media, and the news events which are or can be covered by
them, but I am suggesting that the notion that it is not important to pay attention
to what's going on in the world because the news we read about or watch on
television "is not about us" is plainly wrong.
Human life on earth has always been a precarious pastime. In the millions of
years of our journey to where we now are, however, including the past ten
thousand years (which we label "recorded history"), human life has mostly been
vulnerable only on a relatively "local" scale. With six billion-plus of us now
scattered and crowded over the globe, our technologies have now increasingly
diminished the localization of risk, magnifying day by day the planet-wide
risk. Oceans and seas, mountains and deserts, and immense distances once
imposed this localization. Transportation technologies and communications
technologies now promote the opposite.
It is not news headlines which challenge our way of life, nor is it the perennial
accounts of human frailty that fill our tabloids, nor even the seemingly
obvious threats to peace and prosperity which always seem with us, often
dressed and redressed in the costumes of totalitarianism, prejudice and political
pathologies. Our greatest challenges today may now be"small" stories of
events taking place out of public sight, out of of the attention of the very media
whose role it is to "see" them.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.