EDITORIAL: Twenty-four-hour news sacrifices real journalism for ratings

Nathaniel Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Headlines swirl around the TV screen nonstop. There’s another shooting. Trump tweeted an attack to China’s leader. Before you can finish what it says, another takes its place. The new iPhones see a boost in Apple’s stock. You’re stuck in a 24-hour cycle of news trying to grasp at straws for understanding what’s going on in the world, but it’s no use. You still can’t focus. 

The inability for the audience to differentiate reality and fallacy, especially during newscasts have become a large issue in today’s society.  Twenty-four-hour news stations like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC do a disservice to their viewers when they try to cram story after story in a thirty-minute section because this leaves so many unanswered questions that will never be addressed again. 

Since the rise of social media platforms in the 2010s, large TV media corporations have constantly shortened news reels and broadcast stories in order to compete with the 280-character limit mentality of today’s society according to Politico. This then has the side effect of leaving those that want to know more about an issue left in the dust since the station has already moved on. 

According to David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent, MSNBC for example gives a quick news flash that lasts 15 minutes and often fills up the rest of the time with unhelpful shows in order to keep the audience’s attention until the next news update. This could include interviews and talk shows, but networks may also broadcast tabloid-like celebrity news to keep their viewers engaged. 

CNN and Fox News does something similar where at the top of the hour, news anchors hastily read off things that are going on in politics or internationally, but facts and information are so dwindled down that it seems like they are simply reading headlines from newspaper articles.  

This wasn’t always the case with TV news though. Ever since the invention and mass production of the television in the early 1930s, viewers could tune in to their local NBC or CBS stations. Since there were less distractions for both the viewer and broadcaster like cell phones and lack of channels, stations didn’t have to try as hard to engage and maintain attention according to a Business Insider article. 

This slow and more lowkey style of television news broadcasts changed in the late 70s and 80s with the rise and accessibility of cable television and boom of cable channels starting in 1974 according to Cable Center which included ESPN, BET, MTV, and CNN in 1980. Now that there was a channel dedicated to strictly national news, CNN had to fill up 24 hours with news related stories that kept the audience engaged enough so they wouldn’t change the channel. 

In its first two decades, the first 24-hour news station stayed true to CNN’s creator’s, Ted Turner, belief that there should be a news station that can go in depth on pivotal matters. This included a serious analysis of the Challenger explosion in 1986 and keeping CNN journalists Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw in Baghdad during the first Gulf War even after President George H.W. Bush urged the media to leave due to increasing danger. 

CNN then began receiving competition in ‘96 when both Fox News and MSNCB popped up. The audience for cable news was now split into three with each network competing for the most viewers. 

In reality, this was and still is a numbers game when the more people that watch a certain network, the larger the stations’ payout would be from ratings and advertisers. In order to ensure the constant growth of the networks’ audience, journalists started to focus on stories that have shock value instead of ones that educate the audience including celebrity drama stories like the James Charles and Tati Westbrook situation earlier this year 

All three networks began to slowly skew their agenda from going in depth on serious matters and ignoring the fundamentals of journalism to the fast-paced news cycle today. 

Networks don’t care about their viewers anymore. They care about how much money they can bring in. 

It’s obvious that people know of this issue and this has amplified society’s distrust in the news. In a 2018 Gallup poll, 69% of Americans say that they’ve lost trust in the media, but in a Pew Research poll from the same year49% of Americans still get most of their information from TV while less than 16% get information from slower forms of media like print. 20% of Americans get their news from social media, but this percentage continues to rise. 

There are examples of legitimate news sources that can be as accessible to everyone. This includes sources that don’t rely heavily on ratings and revenue from a network. The New York Times is a great example of this, publishing everything from 2-minute news stories on YouTube to feature length documentary stories on a natural disaster.  

The New York Times mission statement is, “we seek the truth and help people understand the world,” and they do just that. 

TV cable news could be used as a starting platform for the viewer where they do more research after the fact in order to be completely informed, but this isn’t happening. People take the dwindled down bite of information that the news station tells them and leave it at that. The holes in the story are then filled with speculation and conspiracy theories that the person makes, when then is spread to someone else. This is a huge source of how misinformation and unsupported facts spread. 

In some situations, media stations can voice and spread this misinformation if they produce a follow-up story. This is mostly done through showing and discussing Tweets or Facebook posts from their misinformed viewers. This is a cycle that is constantly repeated and continues to amplify along with the presence of social media. 

It’s hard to balance all of the responsibilities of life and staying updated with the news. People must find time to do this, but it’s continuously getting more challenging 

It’s especially important for high school students to be knowledgeable on current events, and solely relying 24-hour TV news is not the way. Since many students will be old enough to vote in the 2020 election, they are going to have to know about which candidates appeal to their ideals the most. 

To dampen the large undertaking, people can listen to news radio stations like NPR or podcasts that have comprehensive analyses of current events. If there is something that is interesting, it’s going to have to be the job of the viewer to conduct more research in order to get the full story. Also, viewers of 24-hour media must learn to take everything with a grain of salt and understand that parts of a story might have been cut for time.  

In order to solidify society’s trust in the media, stations must return to accurate and unbiased news and money needs to remove itself from being between the audience and real journalism. In the meantime, Americans must be conscious of how TV media works and that there are other options out there.