April 25, 2007
Good news is an oxymoron. We live in a culture full of rubber neckers who can't wait to devour the horrors of humanity, the more bloody and gory the better. Our news outlets choose to give the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes their own platform and airtime to spew their messages of hate and personal rhetoric.
Whether it's Osama Bin Laden or Cho Seung Hui, the media has duly obliged to give them their own 15 minutes. And this isn't just covering the death and destruction they have wrought, it is giving them free air time and space to spew their personal messages of hate, airtime which would usually have cost someone millions of dollars to buy. What is wrong with this picture?
By giving terrorists not only the national but worldwide attention they crave, these airings are helping these depraved individuals reach their goal. If the media instead chose to not even utter their name they would be thwarting their efforts. The issue of the media's role in terrorist and other acts of violence is whether the very coverage encourages the act itself.
Individuals or organizations that are trying to gain attention have learned that heinous acts of violence will get not only their name but their message into the headlines. Clearly these tactics are far more successful than issuing a press release or staging a peaceful protest.
However the media do not act alone. They interact with an audience. If the class valedictorian of Virginia Tech sent out a video to the media about his or her plan to start a company dedicated to making the world a better place, would NBC air it, and furthermore would anyone watch it? Would we pay as much attention to random acts of kindness as we do to random acts of violence? Personally I am the news viewer who likes to tune in only at the end of the broadcast for the "fluff" story of the stray dog, which saves the kitten from drowning then becomes its surrogate mother.
Clearly the bombing of the World Trade Center and the killings on the Virginia Tech campus are news and as such will have extensive coverage, but is the self made propaganda videotape of the perpetrator news, and is it the very hope of this sort of fame and media attention which plays into the motive of the attack in the first place?
An important role of the small town newspaper, like Indy here, is to remain a place that is dedicated to good news. We cover the academic and sporting successes of our students, the artistic accomplishments of our residents, and the victories of our political representatives. We want, desperately, to feel that we are part of something positive, and we trust that our advertisers and readers will support us.
What we on the "good news" bandwagon need is help. Can we create everything from news stories to video games to movies that have positive messages? Can we retrieve "nice" from the trash bin and make it en vogue? Can we develop compelling stories about do-gooders and find an audience that will put their money where their conscience is? Can we stop glorifying violence? Can we stop trading in the currency of other people's pain? I have been told more times than I can count that no one will support good news — that newspapers and TV shows have tried and they all failed because no one read or watched them. I find that hard to believe.
It will take a concerted effort from all involved — media management to produce the good news, advertisers who will buy time or space, and an audience that will show up in large numbers. Any sponsors out there who'd like to pony up some money for "the good news" column here? What a great beat — going out and finding the very best our community has to offer — maybe it coul d even make a front page or two? Well, you gotta dream.
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