By Emily Smith
The media can be held responsible, at least in part, for shaping our very identity: our views of ourselves and the world around us. This makes it a crucial concern for us all; the role it plays in society today and, critically, if this role is a suitable, helpful, and appropriate one.
Media has indisputably increased in influence by sheer accessibility. This is not a new observation, by any measure; in fact, such changes were observed even before the dawn of the all-pervasive digital world. Giddens, a theorist of modernity, argued that the nature of newspapers was changed forever due to the birth of the telegram; its compression of ‘space and place’ meant that knowledge of distant events became available, and so the scope and thus prevalence of news widened. The telegram made the world smaller, so to speak, and therefore world news took on new significance. The birth of the internet, and its ever-growing entwinement with our every action, has had an even more dramatic impact: it has made this widened scope of topics truly relevant to us, rather than being part of some distant Unknown. Globalisation has given us more numerous concerns, thus the scale and role of the media has grown to match this.
A potentially harmful process of adaptation has occurred simultaneously: news sources have ceased to be oracle-like conveyers of an ‘Absolute Truth’, but merely reference points. We are no longer defined (or define ourselves) by which newspaper we read, as perhaps older generations were. More significantly, our knowledge is not from one definitive source; we have access to a much larger range of news sources, and are faithful to none. In a confusingly contradictory manner, as the media has grown in influence as a whole, the influence of each media outlet as a separate entity has shrunk massively.
The most worrying change is universal; the need to entertain has increased substantially. This is no fault of any one news source – though ‘click-bait’ sites such as The Huffington Post are easy targets, the blame cannot be placed on any source, only upon the evolution of such fierce competition. It is not merely reserved for online use either, though evident to differing amounts, it has invaded the physical press too: try to find a Daily Mail newspaper without a bolded, underlined word in a title, and my point will soon be clear. But it is not article formatting that I take issue with here: it is the motivation which lies below it.
The sensationalism found in many a click-bait article is notable because it reeks of dishonesty – the dishonesty which should be the antithesis of what we need in the news. It is symptomatic of the willingness to blur reality which media sources have all too readily; examples of media distortions are all too easy to find, be they cases of ‘slander’ or the discovery of blatant reader deception. Put bluntly, entertaining a reader has grown more important than telling the truth.
Though this makes perfect sense economically – of course more entertaining articles would draw a larger audience, and of course this is good for business – when we shape our lives, our identities, and our world views around the information we receive from these sources, it is incredibly disturbing. When they are all guilty of such manipulation, who can we trust?
Scarily, this trend – due to the demands of capitalism, and the nature of globalisation – would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reverse. Doing so could even, at its most radical, be regarded as being in opposition to free speech. Though this progression stems from audience demand, it certainly is not the result of the audience’s interests.
Therefore, the responsibility lies with us to be active readers. Can we really find the truth in the entertainment?
Image: Sollok29 via Wikimedia Commons