Journalists Using Tragedy for Ratings

Journalists Using Tragedy for Ratings

As a former newspaper reporter and editor, and sometime contributor to news-oriented publications today, I generally don’t throw stones at journalists. I know something about the intense deadline pressures, diminished resources, and other obstacles they face.

Still, amid the ever-growing chorus of the anti-Asian, anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-anyone-who’s-different-than-the-suburban-WASP reports purporting to portray American society, I have to raise a finger of protest.

Context matters. of concern about the victims of the recent Lunar New Year shootings in southern California, I shook my head and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Self-Caricature Exercise

Journalists Using Tragedy for Ratings blog post by Ken Walker Writer. Pictured a caricature of journalists.It’s not because I’m anti-Chinese, anti-Japanese or any other Asians. Yet in turning the east Los Angeles attacks into another example of the anti-Asian hatred rife since the appearance of COVID-19 three years ago, the media are engaging in self-caricature.

One could imagine the fictitious Roland Hedley of Doonesbury fame waving his microphone as he intones, “What a story we have here, folks. Hate and fear are rippling through this Asian-American community in the latest example of hatred run amok…”

Suddenly, Hedley pauses to listen to instruction coming through his earpiece before adding, “Uh, wait. No. I guess it’s not the example we thought it was. But nonetheless, when we have a great story we’re going to run with it anyway, regardless of the facts. After all, we’re the Shameless Hyping Network.”

It would be funny, except it’s not.

Journalists Should Stop Crying Wolf

I don’t know the exact year, but I was in elementary school when I heard the Aesop’s fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The story goes back even further to Greece—155 years ago.

Perhaps we need some of Aesop’s wisdom today. With all the news reports treating the tragedy in Hemet as another incident sparking fear among Asian communities, I simply had to pause and ask, “Folks, did you notice the assailant was Asian?”

People crowd around a journalist and their camera crew.The same is true in the shootings that followed two days later in northern California. To extrapolate anything more from these tragedies than two troubled men committing despicable acts is to engage in a boy crying wolf.

When people learned the truth behind the recent attacks in California, it was too easy for them to dismiss other reports of anti-Chinese, anti-Semitic and other forms of bigotry as media hype.

That surely isn’t the case. That’s why those who are engaged in the sacred duty of reporting the news need to avoid creating a narrative and then hunting for stories to justify the narrative.

While that may not have been the intent of those news organizations who rushed to report on the Lunar New Year’s incident, it sure appeared that way.

When I was in journalism school, we learned to go report the news and let the chips fall where they may. It was someone else’s duty to analyze where the chips fell and what that all meant. The danger of crying wolf without any foundation is no one listening when the real wolf comes.

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