Columns / Discourse / April 21, 2014

Flight 370 and responsibility in the media

For a long time, my internet homepage has been CNN. I used to find this a useful way to get a quick glance at the important news stories of the day, but now it’s left there more from the power of inertia than anything else.

Something I’ve found difficult to avoid noticing recently is that the lead story every day in the last month has been that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight. You may have forgotten and moved onto other things, but CNN has not.

Every day the website finds news ways of reporting the headline “Nothing significant has changed in search for plane” without ever removing the giant fonts that used to signify BREAKING NEWS. Now it seems BREAKING NEWS is something that happens every day on a predictable basis. Let us hope nothing important does happen, or else CNN will have to devote its entire homepage to a two-word headline to indicate the presence of actual breaking news.

There was undoubted news value initially to the story. Airline safety is important to many of us and it is no shame to have wondered what happened. If an airplane is missing for a month, though, there comes a time when it simply is no longer the most important thing happening on the planet anymore.

CNN has not moved on, creating a bizarre Groundhog Day-world where the lead story of the day is always the same no matter what has happened in the world. Every day that CNN keeps on its current course it continues along its gradual shift from news to infotainment.

News should fundamentally be providing information that helps us to be better citizens and to go about our lives more effectively in general.

I recently read an article that appeared in The Guardian. Somewhat ironically, given where it was, it argued that reading the news was bad for us. The author essentially made the case that none of the news we read actually encourages us to make a change in our daily lives, so it is really just a distraction from more relevant things.

This is a valid critique, but only of lousy news organizations and lousy news readers. Yes, you may not actually change your life based on the latest reports from the battles in Syria, but when the American government was debating authorizing air strikes, it suddenly became a lot more relevant and important.

Generally speaking, if nothing in the news ever makes you take action then the fault is hardly on the news organization. The fault, dear reader, is with you.

That assumes that actual news is being reported on. Unless you are bored and own a deep sea submarine, the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is a distraction. It has been a shame that it has distracted CNN more than anyone else.

Matt Barry
Matt Barry is a senior majoring in international relations and double minoring in economics and German. This is his third year working for TKS, having served previously as discourse editor. He has worked for such organizations as the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Premier Tourism Marketing and the Council on American Islamic Relations-Chicago, where his work appeared in such publications as Leisure Group Travel, Ski & Ride Club Guide and The Chicago Monitor. Matt has written his political opinion column, "The Voice of Reason," weekly for three years, which finished in first place at the 2012 Illinois College Press Association conference and was also recognized at the 2013 conference.

Tags:  CNN Flight 370 groundhog day Malaysia Malaysia Airlines media news

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