Ghavri: Every Man His Own Anchor

by Anmol Ghavri | 8/4/16 6:00pm

“This is CNN breaking news.”

As someone who keeps CNN constantly playing in my room, I am always exposed to its 24/7 focus on sensationally breaking a story as quickly as possible. This leads to a de-emphasis on traditional values of verification, objectivity and quality of interpretation. In this style of reporting, the details of a story are typically still emerging, and there is tremendous room for misreporting.

The 24/7 news cycle has changed the political, economic, cultural and social fabric of society. With the existence of cable television and online media, the reporting of news now occurs in real time. News media companies spend vast amounts of energy and resources in capturing the attention of audiences and advertisers around the clock. Through international anchors and the use of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, news companies in the modern era break developing stories as they happen. This contrasts with the day-to-day or week-to-week pace of the news cycle in previous years. Yet despite this increased news exposure, the media increasingly misinforms and panders to us, with modern cable news often failing to separate news from opinion, sensational stories and entertainment. This is the central paradox of 24/7 cable news. By emphasizing reporting speed, sensationalism and entertainment over objectivity, fact-checking and quality, news networks such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC largely fail to report in an unbiased or productive manner.

A lack of verification, contextualization and depth combined with an emphasis on attracting viewers and advertisers by any means necessary leads to misreporting. The pressure to break the news faster than others do incentivizes speed over accuracy in reporting. There seems to be little opportunity to wait to verify claims before disseminating them. Rather, the facts are verified — and corrected — as the story develops. Combined with anchors’ tendency to express their political opinions implicitly and explicitly, this leads to dramatized and inaccurate reporting.

For example, CNN’s reporting of the Boston marathon bombing was riddled with preemptive and sensational conclusions. The bombers were originally misidentified, which both misinformed the public and negatively affected the reputations of the falsely accused. All this resulted from CNN’s mad dash to be the first to break the story. NBC’s Brian Williams lied about his experiences in Iraq, another desperate sensationalization of real life in the name of the 24-hour news cycle. The failure of networks like CNN, Fox and MSNBC to separate opinion from objective news analysis originates from their focus on entertaining and pandering to their audiences rather than fulfilling their duty to reliably and accurately educate the public on current affairs.

A news media company’s culture and political views tremendously influences how it reports the news. Partisan anchors, producers and editors attract like-minded staff. This staff, in turn, have similar world-views and thus tend to provide one-sided analysis. Many feign balance by bringing on high-profile guests and political opposition. In actuality, networks do so for entertainment value, as programs dismiss many of these guests, using them as an example of the “unreasonable” other side.

The silver lining is that the public is perfectly capable of interpreting the significance and validity of subjective stories for themselves. When a story involves political opinions, the public can come to its own conclusions. In subjective circumstances with no single correct interpretation, this self-interpretation allows for a more balanced view of the situation. Yet when a news story accuses someone of a crime, the accused are found guilty and punished in the court of public opinion before ever being convicted in a court of law. Crime, terrorism, natural disasters, public policy and economic news leave little room for subjectivity, self-interpretation and one-sided opinions of the reporter.

When it comes to breaking stories and stating facts, placing unverified and sensational stories into the public arena for the self-benefit of a news organization is irresponsible. The details of a terrorist attack, the downing of an airliner, public policy views of political candidates, economic news and natural disasters — these must be thoroughly fact-checked and presented in an objective manner. News organizations can try to entertain us, but they exist primarily to keep us accurately informed. It is time again to separate opinion, sensationalism and entertainment from the news.