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It is a fact that those in the news media are not experts on just about anything they choose to write about. Despite the advances in research tools and communication, such things do not actually fill an unknowing mind with knowledge about a particular topic, especially when there’s a deadline.

That being the case, it’s a fair bet that just about everything we see or read called news is not exactly right. We’ve all experienced this, finding in some area of our particular knowledge that a reporter didn’t quite get it right. We think this is a fluke. Except that on any given topic there’s a person who is an expert somewhere in this world saying, “They didn’t quite get it right.”

I remember the fire. The scant pieces of news we got before the electricity went out, and from friends overwhelmed with worry about our non-evacuation, were almost entirely wrong. Sometimes the reporter would be reporting from a location which was actually located forty five minutes away. The problem is that reporters are paid to say something. Whether or not they actually know something is not the most important issue. They have to say something.

I’ve joked with friends that one of the most important skills a seminary teaches pastors in training is the ability to be absolutely confident in saying something even and especially when one doesn’t know the real answer. People go to pastors for information and confidence in a stance. They don’t need to know all the details, they just need to know that someone does. So a pastor is paid to be confident in an area which no one really is all that confident about.

They teach the same thing in journalism school apparently. It’s not a matter of telling facts or the truth, it’s about sounding confident that “someone” has a grasp on the situation enough to talk about it. It’s the demand in our souls that if something is going on, there needs to be at least one person saying, “What’s all this then?”

Like with theology and Scripture the amount of people who really know something about a given topic are so negligible that it is perfectly safe to make up or adapt information in order to fulfill the most important aspect of confidence. A reporter who really doesn’t know anything or has nothing to say is not really worth their salary. So they have to say something. In the most difficult situations, where there can be the least information and that which exists is the most apt to change, a reporter has to cling to something, whether that be a chosen narrative or fleeting rumors.

The fleeting rumors work because there’s always the chance of a real scoop, which would propel the reporter into some higher level of journalism. No one really remembers the rumors which don’t pan out, so it’s safe to throw out as many as possible trusting one or two will stick.

The narrative is even safer because it gives an air of authority to a reporter. A story is chosen, and continued. This story is then supported by bits and pieces of information, which add up over time to enhance the chosen story. Anything which is outside of this is not mentioned, for doing so would both tarnish the chosen narrative and demote the reporter from their self-appointed role as expert. With the narrative approach in place any unanticipated event can always be used to bolster the story, with instant expertise granted by being included in already established assumptions. Sure, the facts may change and the details, but as long as the narrative is continued the reporter feels they are still on top of things.

Rumors and narratives are media crisis management.

Katrina was a crisis for the media.

Having experienced the media during a time of crisis, it makes a lot of sense why I would choose to distance myself from most media coverage. It’s not because they are blatant liars. It’s because they need to get paid to do a job, and the reality of a situation is not necessarily the most important part of doing that job. They are paid to say something, which gets to be a real problem when they don’t have anything to say and when they don’t know anything about what they saying. They’ll get enough things right to keep the appearance of accuracy… but the real fact is we just don’t know the crucial things they will get wrong, and that makes the media fairly useless in covering a disaster. Except, of course, for their very capable ability to pique our prurient fascination with suffering.

2 Responses to “hyperbole”

  1. Zippy The Troll Says:

    not exactly on topic here, but there’s an interesting article at: http://www.therevealer.org/archives/timeless_000149.php about the Religion of Journalism

  2. marie Says:

    A great commentary on the way it is!! I want to copy this and keep it.
    Exaggerated and inaccurate reporting causes a huge amount of confusion.
    I pray that humanity will long for noble, lofty, inspiring light and truth
    and not smut and gossip and everything ignoble!! God bless you, Patrick