Freedom of the Press is a fundamental right of the US Constitution revered, celebrated, and a source of pride for thinking Americans. That said, there have had to be some regulation to curb some of the "yellow journalism" that tabloids still seem to conjure. And I believe more is needed.
But in these days instant communication becomes the curse of "news-tainment", alleged news stories that are promoted by teaser trailers on tv which amount to nothing more than thinly disguised product or business advertising and self-promotion of the broadcasters who call themselves "journalists." Any incident becomes the trigger for an all-day marathon of constant updates, interrupting all other programming to keep us all informed of a minimal change of the situation. The 24 hours of "news" available on television, radio, and the internet, and of course, the social media sites that post instant photos and personal commentary, flood the ears, eyes, and minds of us all with often irresponsible mis-information that becomes imbedded as "reality".
I write as I - as millions of others no doubt - have the tv on with the continuous coverage of the situation in Boston and Watertown because of the Boston Marathon bombing. But this concept has been emerging in my consciousness for a very long time. The local stations in my area of Greater Philadelphia are supposed to be part of a major broadcast market such as New York, Chicago, LA, Washington and therefore the reportage and reporters are considered to be of a higher caliber than somewhere in the middle of a rural area. They are affiliates of national networks such as ABC, NBC, and CBS, and others.
Many of the people I know well as friends and family have for years complained of the nonsensical and laughable 14 hours of coverage for a 2 foot snowfall - a huge "team" of reporters all over the city with yardsticks measuring snowfall, sinking into snowdrifts, interviewing people coming out of convenience stores or stuck on an icy road. WHO CARES? No one I know. Why does anyone need the live broadcast of a press conference when a local professional athlete changes his shoes or a lottery winner receives a payment? A car accident occurs on a city street? Those moments seem to be improving as complaints to the stations apparently have gotten the attention of the program directors who no longer stop programming but give hourly updates and/or show a concurrent silent video with information crawling underneath - however, other incidents, such as this day about Boston, purport to be critical information for the public, and this is the crux of my concern and frustration.
Recently, there was a shooting at the Courthouse in my hometown. I, as many of my friends, was riveted to the television for information regarding casualties and other pertinent information for people in the immediate vicinity. I was appalled at how quickly the reporters lept into ridiculous assumptions, false information, and all with constant and absurd chatter asking each other inane questions and then repeating it all for hours. All three local channels made much drama of a situation that needed no embellishment and then later promoted themselves as being "on the spot". One of the stations posted a photograph of "the shooter" supposedly obtained from the attorney for the individual. REALLY? Guess what, the photograph turned out hours later to be of the son of the shooter. 6ABC later promoted itself as being "on the scene and it was chaos." Yes, it was chaos and most of it had to do with the jockeying of reporters and people walking down the street wanting to be on camera. Street interviews were broadcast with a man who was driving by and heard at least 20 shots fired. Another man's sister was in the Courthouse for jury duty but had called immediately to say she was fine. Comments about police cars driving up and officers getting out of cars. And on and on. MOST of the initial information given over several hours of constant coverage turned out to have very little relationship with the truth. Reporting on who and how many were shot, killed, or injured in what part of the building and by whom was all wrong in the final analysis. It came on the heels of the horrendous day in Newtown, Connecticut with equally and continuously dreadful reporting of wrong information.
TODAY, a Russian-speaking broadcaster has spoken to the suspect's father in Russia who gave her his son's phone number. She has been calling the suspect's phone number but it has been busy - so, she's going to say what to him if he answers? Another reporter discovered the suspect's sister and was interviewing her before the FBI did. There have been interviews with people who know the suspects, and with residents of the town giving information on what it's like to be in lock-down in the city, a press conference with an uncle who had no communication with his suspect-nephews in several years. The rampant speculations of reporters CNN, FOX and other "news" outlets in recent days since the bombing have been shown to be nothing more than rumor-propellant designed to be "exclusive" and "first". How does all of this serve the immediate need to keep people safe and accomplish the arrest of the suspect?
Answers - anyone? I am torn between wanting transparency in the information that is available and responsible reporting that perhaps requires curtailing of instant information. What public need is served by bouncing around multiple reporters pointing down streets repeating the same "information" and "perhaps"-type speculations over and over. How is it useful - and reasonable - that media personalities self-promote themselves into interviews before law-enforcement personnel? Why not just regular updates when there is credible and useful information from those who are coordinating the investigations and the search for the suspect?
Yes, we all want to be sure that law-enforcement is appropriate and we all want to be sure that we have all the "facts" of any given situation. But what I'm seeing are talking heads giving miscellaneous details about the immediate moment that is not factually relevant to current and future safety. "Look, there's a resident taking trash out", "Look, a police car is leaving, a police car is driving in, a resident is shooting video from the roof of his house" doesn't seem to me to be nail-bitingly helpful to anyone except those who are happy to have their own faces projected into my living room. OH, at 3 pm they are signing off - for now - having been reporting non-stop since probably 6 or 7 am. OH, wait, the local station now has a "special edition" of the local news about the situation in Massachusetts because why - because, of course, it's their turn to show me their faces. OK, time to turn it all off. Within the coming weeks, there will be several documentaries, special investigative news shows, and next year the Lifetime Channel will air a docu-drama movie with the script highlighting mostly the rumors supplemented by terrible acting.
Meanwhile, I'll get an update later, on Facebook no doubt.