How The Mainstream Media Fails Us

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Written by Jaimee-Lisa Cotter

As someone who has career aspirations in journalism and media, it might sound hypocritical to say that the mainstream media continually fails to meet the needs of the public day in and day out, since I will likely have to work in some facet of mainstream publication at some point.


Luckily for me, all of the opportunities I’ve been presented with to have work published or put on air have been with independent organizations that encourage me to take a stab at covering controversial topics or events, and where the lines of creative license and journalistic integrity allow, to even take a stance on it. A rare window of opportunity that is sometimes also terrifying when you enjoy writing hard news and investigative pieces way more than sharing your opinion on the internet. 


So why do I think that the mainstream media fails us? Not for the reasons you might assume.


I’m not talking about government cover ups or censorship, or even targeted demographics. I’m talking specifically about “news” sources, and the existential crisis that so many publications are facing.


A perfect example: the other day I was reading an article on a purposely unnamed and previously trusted site, and they actually quoted Buzzfeed News as breaking the story. BUZZ. FEED. NEWS. The words Buzzfeed and News occupying the same sentence space make me question my education and career choices, but highlight exactly what the problem with the new found accessibility to news on the internet is.


The online reaction to the tragedy in Paris in late 2015 was one episode that highlighted just how dangerous misinformation and “news” sources can be detrimental to education about global affairs, human rights, and other really important things that you should honestly do some more background research about. The backlash to the people posting #PrayForParis largely took the form of the non-prayers circulating an article about a massacre of students at Garissa University in Kenya and how we should be praying for those people instead of/along with the victims of the Paris attacks.


Habitually, I checked all my go-to news sources and saw absolutely nothing about the attack. So I gave in to the clickbait headline and scanned for some useful, verifiable information, and did some google searching and found out the attack actually took place in April 2015 and received little to no press coverage when it happened. Which means that all those people using the misleading article to throw shade at those posting Pray for Paris propaganda didn’t bother fact checking before they called others out for mourning a highly romanticized emblem of western culture.


But the situation at hand, the one that put a lot of this in perspective for me, was the recent news about Flint, Michigan, and their water crisis. I had read about the lead levels in Flint being alarmingly high about a year and a half ago, in doing some research about access to clean water in North American communities and corporate responsibility (here’s looking at you, Nestle).


So in the last two years, why did this atrocity against basic human rights in one of the world’s leading super powers get next to no coverage, and barely anyone knew about it?


“Maybe there were more important issues?”

“Maybe there were more scandalous stories?”

“Maybe they were actively trying to cover it up?”


But the real reason it hasn’t been covered until now, the reason no one wanted to talk about before it was covered by major news networks, is the lack of endorsement, enticement and entertainment surrounding it.


Until the situation in Flint was used as a spectacle to parade around the circus ring that is the US campaign trail, it was largely unnoticed and the people of Flint largely disregarded by these politicians and publications who suddenly cared so much.


As someone who has an inside track (albeit very novice) in the online publications industry, I’m going to level with you and tell you it’s likely because this kind of story just doesn’t drive traffic.


I wish I was kidding. But the chances that a large news network was going to pick up this story and make it go viral are slim to none until the story garners some drama around it. With such an overwhelming amount of news that happens every day on the global stage, and everything we have access to and all the places we can gather news from, it’s turned into a race of who can jump on this trend biggest and best and fastest. 


This isn’t to say that there were absolutely no publications or media organizations covering the Flint story, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. But in this day and age, when you have to compete for funding based on website hits and other fickle means of interaction, your goal is to get as many clicks as possible.


This is one of the reasons we see so many click-baity titles in our news feeds, timelines and other media centres. People click on trending topics and if you haven’t got something written up and thrown out into what has become a massive black hole of information, you’re missing a valuable opportunity for exposure in the form of likes, shares and dreaded comment section.


Stories that are covered by major news publications are the ones people know about. They’re the ones considered “newsworthy”. They’re the ones that get picked up by everyone because if people already know about them, they’ll come to the drinking hole for water and your job is halfway done: if you build it, they will come. Throw some search engine optimization in there and you’re good to go.


The real unsung hero in this situation are independent media outlets. The start ups you find online that tend to be a bit radical, but the passion about getting these little known stories, snowballing activism, or other alternative news out there and reaching people is ripe with every word you read.

So the next time you decide to take the time to catch up on what’s going on in the world, remember that there’s so much more than what’s in your Facebook feed. Scroll past that first page of google results. Check out an unknown but relevant subreddit. Read discussions and commentary on the article, no matter how painful it may be (and it can be incredibly painful, but I promise it’s worth it). There’s nothing like gaining new perspective and educating yourself about the things you find interesting, and being able to contribute to the information that’s out there and spreading the education. 

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