The past issue of this series dealt with the responsibility of journalists to effectively promote their stories to the target audience. My colleague asserted that the lack of our youth’s intellectual maturity should not only be attributed to the writers who produce shallow and insignificant news but also to those who report meaningful stories with substance but fail to use all the tools at their disposal - visual, promotional, or otherwise - to deliver the necessary information to the intended audience. However, looking back at the poor media coverage of the recent Sewol ferry disaster, I am beginning to think that there is room for one more attributing factor; this factor is about how the content of news should be presented within the context of the story.
Media reputation has been damaged over the past few years, as more and more broadcasting companies have been driven by viewership rather than integrity. The Korean media coverage of the Sewol ferry incident epitomizes the failures of said companies resulting from their blind pursuit for financial incentive associated with increased ratings. These broadcast stations were at fault for a train-wreck of failures ranging from disorganized and repetitive presentation of news to emotional appeal using music to even one news anchor nearly bursting into tears on-air while reporting on the story. Social media has been screaming for the need for media reformation. Such deterioration of news coverage has rendered people to become less willing to take the media’s word for granted and seek their own conclusions.
However, I think it is essential that the media, not the general public, be the one to provide analysis of the facts in question and put them into context, as viewers are sometimes not qualified or competent enough to make sense of the data at hand. For example, many people will not be able to make much sense of detailed polling data and hence will require the help of a political analyst; some may not know how big the United States (U.S.) current account deficit is, say, 473.4 billion U.S. dollars without the help of an expert in economics. As said by a character in Aaron Sorkin’s TV series Newsroom, “We [the media] are not waiters in a restaurant serving you the stories you’ve asked for just the way you like them prepared, nor are we computers dispensing only the facts because news is only useful in the context of humanity.” In other words, it is somewhat foolish of some to think that news coverage should be exclusively fact-based as context is required for those facts to be of any significance.
Of course, there is an inherent subjectivity in news coverage the minute analysis is done on the given facts, as it is virtually impossible to disregard one’s personal beliefs during analysis. Journalists should therefore use their own judgment and acumen to decide how much trade off should there be between sense of context and objectivity. However, managing this trade-off is not a simple issue - if it were, it would have changed our national discourse immeasurably for the better. The general public and the Internet have seen both ends of the spectrum: on one side is journalism based on shallow research that aim to increase viewership, otherwise known as yellow journalism; and on the other is well-intended but a crude version of journalism created in response to yellow journalism that merely lists a motley of seemingly unrelated facts without any real commentary and evaluation of those facts. Having experienced both extremes, we journalists should strive to find the middle ground and at the same time, make a constant effort to reduce bias by putting news in a broader context and disclosing as much information about the sources to restore the public’s faith in journalism.
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