Tuesday, November 11, 2008

If it scares it leads?

A recent CNN piece on gun sales rising since Obama's presidency sent a chill down my peace-loving spine. It also left me wondering where journalistic responsibility lies. It takes CNN 5 paragraphs of this article to get to the point that it is legislation fears that are motivating the surge --- due to the campy anecdotal lede assassination violence is all but directly alluded to. A slow story like that draws away from any substantive trend data (one case study does not a trend make). One has to question the motives of any copy editor that gave the piece a headline that doesn't mention policy.

In fact, many news outlets have chosen to cover assassination possibilities long before inauguration day, one of the more outrageous examples being the Metro this week. Following an election with the highest voter turnout and healthiest margin of support for the victor in the last 8 years, the most appropriate lede is the possibility of assassination. Can it be that the US is so focused on the racial issue that this is the only angle editors can assign? Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low but the subject of riot or violence against him rarely came up during the past eight years.

Sadly, I believe speculative articles that prey on fear for readership detract from any real value-add potential that coverage of historic events have. The fourth estate often comes under criticism for being insensitive and manipulative of emotion and events. As subscription rates drop, print circulation is cut, editorial layoffs ensue and the cost of online advertising remains low --- it's a good time for the industry to look at it's coverage philosophy.

Yes, journalism needs to ask the difficult questions. But those difficult questions aren't always the most shocking or driven at sparking controversy. Now that we have a biracial president it would be nice if for once everything wasn't a black and white issue in print. In fact often the tough questions are the thoughtful, well-researched ones, that are unique to a particular outlet and not strewn across the top hits on Yahoo or Google news. I challenge 2009 journalists to take the unique position of not mongering only fear and doubt in these challenging times but instead providing relevant news and information.

No comments: