"This Just In. . ." Could "Breaking News" Be Breaking Us?
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
Chelsey Poncé will graduate from Indiana Wesleyan University in April 2008 with a degree in Communication Arts and a minor in Writing. Her work has appeared in the Marion Chronicle-Tribune and the IWU student newspaper, The Sojourn, as well as the undergraduate literary magazine, Caesura. Her writing earned an Indiana Collegiate Press Association award in 2008 for Best Opinion Column. As a student, she produced and co-hosted the community news program Crossroads for WIWU TV-51 and worked as an intern for WTHR-13 in Indianapolis. After college, she plans to begin a career in television news.
The report came across the wires just hours after I began my first day interning at an Indianapolis television station: Larry and Dannielynn Birkhead were coming home.
The newsroom was thrown into a temporary frenzy. Producers began rearranging rundowns, requesting video, and rewriting wire copy to announce the arrival of Birkhead and his swaddled daughter to the U.S. Their twenty-second walk across the tarmac dominated the news that night, the latest sideshow in the media circus surrounding the death of Anna Nicole Smith.
America’s “most famous baby” (and her infamous parents) continued grabbing headlines throughout the summer. People magazine’s exclusive first photos of the father/daughter duo rocketed their sales 41%, according to Forbes.com. Their attendance at the Kentucky Derby eclipsed that of even the Queen. When Birkhead decorated Dannie’s nursery, we knew the color of the walls.
The sheer volume of the coverage spurred Maria Shriver, first lady of California and co-anchor of Dateline NBC, to turn in her resignation, saying “It was then that I knew the TV news media had changed, and so had I.”
And, perceivably, so has the audience. With the dominance of cable television and the dawn of YouTube, television news viewers are changing their tunes—from “just the facts, ma’am” to “here we are; now, entertain us.” Dog-fighting rings, missing housewives, murderous professional wrestlers, and Hollywood DUIs frequented 24-hour news coverage this year, with similar sagas leading the local newscasts. The “infotainment” tactic may keep us interested, but does it do us any good?
Our parents gave us the mantra “you are what you eat,” teaching that a steady diet of Kool-Aid and Zebra Cakes makes for one artery-clogged kid. But they may not have hammered a more important message: “You are what you think.” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “life consists in what a man is thinking about all day;” Mohandas Gandhi said “what a man thinks, he becomes.” In order to be well-rounded, media-literate people, our mental diets must consist of more than sensational stories and all-caps, late-breaking news alerts. We must also break the bread of history, science, philosophy, psychology, literature, art, family and community.
Recently the Chronicle-Tribune told the story of Tre Cox, a ten year-old Marion boy who spent his savings for a trampoline to buy Christmas cards for soldiers serving in the Middle East. Tre isn’t the son of famous parents, and he’s never been on the cover of a magazine. His idea didn’t stem from a favorite movie or video game, but from watching a local Veteran’s Day parade. Yet his simple story of sacrifice and genuine concern for others has gotten the attention from strangers as far away as Ohio and New York—spurring their own acts of kindness after hearing about his.
The Bible admonishes “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV). Our world isn’t perfect—a fact confirmed by every evening newscast and edition of the daily paper. But we must remember that it is full of more than sex scandals and drug busts and drive-by-shootings; it is also home to beauty, innovation, compassion, creativity, courage, dedication, and generosity. So go ahead, touch that dial! And perhaps the next time you see a news program covering a circus, it will be one of a three-ring variety.
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