World crises highlight inequality in news coverage

Zach Cepeda, staff reporter

Americans across the country watched in awe last November 27 as news media reports covered the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris, France. Generating an outpour of support, many Facebook users altered their profile pictures by adding a “filter” containing the French national colors. As the nation turned its attention to Paris, some believed that reports on the attacks occurring in other areas of the world, such as Beirut, Lebanon, went untold.

According to Broadcasting Instructor Doc Oswald, lopsided and unequal news coverage is inevitable in the modern age of media. According to Oswald, he believes that in order to gain viewers, news coverage often depends upon the interests of the general public.

“News media has become almost a form of entertainment,” Oswald said. “You have to make money in the news. I think the news media, by focusing on terrorist attacks in Paris and not other parts of the world, believes that we would find that more interesting because it happened in Paris, which is a city that even if you haven’t been there, you know what it is…[Attacks] happen and media makes the assumption that this is what will get our attention more.”

Oswald additionally explained how he believes that the media’s tendency to base their news coverage on public interest leads to a cycle of unequal reporting. According to Oswald, this cycle is described by a theory called Status Conferral. Oswald explained that the theory explains how as viewers tend to associate importance of events to what they are consuming from the news.

“[The theory] says that we are trained to believe that anything shown in the news or any people in the news, have more important things to say,” Oswald said. […]  Inequality in the news starts when the media believes that they are giving us something we find more important, but in essence are training us to see what’s more important, so it becomes a vicious cycle”

According to Oswald, there are many subtleties in the news such as context. Oswald explained that he believes that wording can additionally have the ability to completely alter the overall message as phrases have different connotations for individuals.

“Context many times is what makes news inappropriate, unfair or biased,” Oswald said.  It’s not just the content itself, and I think that’s what a lot of people miss about the news. They think content is king, well it’s not: context is king. It gives so many meanings to words. So many different words or phrases depending on where you are, or how you connote different things.“

Junior Saarah Bhaji agrees with Oswald in his views wording and phrasing in the media and the contributions it can have to prejudice towards certain groups of people.

“The word terrorist is used in ways that it should be used, and sometimes in ways it shouldn’t,” Bhaji said. “If a white man shoots up a school, they’ll just call him a lone wolf or say he has something wrong with him in the brain. But if it is a black guy or a muslim guy, all of a sudden he’s a terrorist or he’s a gang member. [News inequality] is big on wording.”

According to history teacher Stacy Flannery, the problem lies not with words such as terrorist being used, but rather where they are directed.

”It’s not the word itself, it’s the limited way in which the word is being used to describe a particular group of people,” Flannery said. “That’s another thing I try to pay attention to is just language and the way events are being described. Is that overly dramatic? Is it meant to incite fear? I just try to think of those things as I am watching the news and not just blindly accept whatever is being told to me.”

With information varying throughout the news, Flannery believes it is important to invest time to look at topics from many different angles, building a larger picture of what is going on in the world. Using social media, Flannery was able to see national events on a more personal level.

”One things I have discovered lately is how Twitter gives you news happening in the moment,” Flannery said. “When I came to this realization, I was kind of new to Twitter, and the Baltimore riots were going on. ..On Twitter this guy was walking around taking pictures of people protesting peacefully, trying through civil disobedience to demonstrate their frustrations with the police. But none of that was on the news.”

Oswald explains that from his perspective, he believes that people of today’s generation already have this skepticism for the media built in.

“If news agencies air on one side or another, [this] generation has come to expect that,” Oswald said. “They are trained knowing that not everything they hear is true. I would have never met someone [that] age who believes everything on the news. […] In an information society, it is beholden on the consumers to triangulate information by using multiple sources. So it is not on the news media any more, I feel much of it is on the consumer. It’s the nature of modern media.”

In a society enveloped in media, Flannery believes the inaccuracies in the news have led to an increased feeling of fear throughout the world.

“There are some really bad people in the world, and some complicated issues going on, but you would think sometimes that’s all there is because of what gets attention, and it scares me that people become more fearful and less hopeful,” Flannery said.

However extensive the effects of skewed media coverage may be, Oswald believes it is unavoidable.

“If we are to say there is no bias in media, we are lying to ourselves,” Oswald said. “If we are to say that there is one group out there that gets it worse than others, we are also lying to ourselves… In every media outlet if you read [the story or piece] thoroughly, there will be bias. It’s a human endeavor, all human endeavors have a bias. But, that’s kind of what makes them interesting.”