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Prioritizing the Media Agenda

By: Kelly Tansor, Copy Editor, (ktanso2@uic.edu)

Ben Affleck was chosen as the new Batman.  Meanwhile, a chemical explosion happened in Syria.  Miley Cyrus smoked a joint at the EMA’s.  Meanwhile, a typhoon in the Philippines resulted in thousands of deaths.  Katy Perry may or may not be engaged.  Meanwhile, a mass shooting happened at a Detroit barbershop last week, but you probably haven’t heard about it.

Why does celebrity news seem to be more popular than national news?  Do we blame news studios?  Journalists?  Too much news happening too fast?

Nope – it’s our fault.

I’m doing an internship with a local news station right now, and the more time I spend there, the more I realize how messed up the media agenda can sometimes be.  For example, who can forget when Miley Cyrus danced around with teddy bears and twerked onstage (ugh, I threw up in my mouth a little bit remembering that) at the VMA’s last summer?  This happened right around the time the chemical explosion in Syria was taking place.  However, when I went to work at my internship the next day, there were probably one or two news stories about Syria, while Miley Cyrus took up a good portion of the broadcast, and discussion of her tongue-baring performance was all over the good ol’ Internet.  She even topped Google’s search suggestions and was ahead of Syria for a while.  I couldn’t believe it – a teenager dancing with teddy bears made more news coverage than a chemical explosion!

Around this time, too, Ben Affleck was chosen as the next Batman, and there were two petitions put out to keep him from being in the movie – one even went to the President of the United States!  So where was the petition to help out Syria when they were in the middle of a chemical explosion?

Why is the news this way?  It’s very simple: It all comes down to money.

TheOnion.com released this satirical article fictionally written by CNN.com managing editor Meredith Artley after Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance (if you can call it that) was the top story for nearly every news station.  Obviously it is satire and Artley did not actually write it, but I still suggest you read it because it is quite enjoyable.  In it, “she” explains that stories like that make the most Web traffic, which in turn gives sites more advertising revenue.  Put a “shocking” video online, put an ad before the video plays and BAM!  More money.  Also, the more stories you have about Miley Cyrus on your site, the more viewers click on more of your site’s links, giving you even more traffic and more money.  Not only are you visiting their site, but you are staying there, too.  Same goes for news broadcasts – the longer they keep you tuned in with “scandalous” news, the more revenue they get.

And we’re stupid enough to fall for this.

Being born and raised in Chicago, I hear about violence on a daily basis.  Personally, I’ve almost become jaded from it.  Mass shootings, murder, school shootings – we hear about these stories nearly every day.  Many people are just downright sick and tired of hearing the same depressing stories like these over and over again.  It’s no wonder some of us want a little escapism in our lives.  Best place to go for that is Hollywood – celebrities living more fascinating lives than we do, movies that are more exciting than our day-to-day lives, something to get us away from the harsh realities of the world around us.

This is dangerous.  It shouldn’t matter which celebrity is getting married or divorced, or who is doing what drugs in Hollywood (spoiler alert, a ton of people in Hollywood are getting married, splitting up, doing drugs, etc.).  We start to become ignorant of the world around us, which can have negative consequences and give us a distorted view of reality.

Let’s go back to that Detroit shooting I mentioned earlier that you didn’t hear about.  Detroit has a high murder rate, the gunman had a criminal history as well as a feud with several of the victims, and it happened at a barber shop.  So why didn’t we hear about it?  Well, ThinkProgress had this to say:

Gun crimes often occur in low-income neighborhoods with largely non-white victims, but, from the news, you’d think every shooting put the white and affluent at risk of violence. There’s an obvious reason from a producer’s perspective: They want traffic, or viewers, and think they can get more if more well-off news consumers are self-concerned with the story. But it doesn’t reflect the reality of gun violence in the United States, where black people are far more likely to be victims of gun homicides compared to their white counterparts.

The news these days is a vicious cycle – more people want to hear about this story, so the news makes it a top story, allowing more people to hear about the story, and the cycle continues.  This cycle is commonly known as the agenda-setting theory: if a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important.  Journalists have to default to reporting on what the people want to hear about, not always what they want to report on.  Even here at The Chicago Bloc[k], I sometimes get stuck trying to think of what to write about because I’m worried that what I write about is not what people want to read about.

The best thing we can do about this is to be a better news consumer.  The next time you go to your favorite news channel or Web site, take a good hard look at what they are reporting and ask yourselves these questions: Does this story pertain to me?  Is hearing this story going to benefit me in the long run?  Should this really be news?  Should it really be getting the attention it deserves?

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent story. You amaze us with your writings.
    Nana & Uncle Dave

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