September 11th, 2001 changed modern day America forever. It is also the day I began actively watching the news. I still vividly remember the World Trade Center collapsing on the Magnavox television in my seventh-grade English class and the weeks of hysteria that followed.
Every day mother came home from work and I came home from school, before discussing dinner, we’d turn on the news. Between the daily reports of foiled attacks, the terror alert colors of the Bush years and the misinformation I would hear in school hallways, I sought out truth in by enrolling in my very first journalism class the following semester.
In many ways it cultivated my interest in writing. I had the chance to apply the “5W’s and H” to cover football games, bake sales and school dances while seeing my name in bylines. What I didn’t know was that is how those courses would be over the next couple of years; state a lot of facts and ask fewer questions.
It wasn’t until my first journalism class in college that I moved from reading and reporting the news to becoming literate in its subject matter; something the hours of endless debate from political pundits and the ever present “Breaking News” bar on many of our most respected outlets fails to provide to viewers. For the first time I was challenged to go beyond the headlines and explore the history behind conflicts, find the broader implications of political decisions and ask sources well-researched questions.
Tuning in to CNN, Fox News and MSNBC today is a painful reminder of how far cable news has drifted from the core values of journalism and the dangers of how sensationalized stories leads to a desensitized public.
Much of what I see, including this morning, is 24 hours of different faces reading the same headlines before giving over the platform to other journalists, authors and policy leaders for completely biased debates.
In a time where fake news has taken hold of the internet and established outlets are left fighting for click rates and viewership, should we rethink the 24-hour news cycle? I think so.
For millennials and late-entry generation Xers too young to remember the launch of CNN in June 1980, tuning in to watch 30 minutes of global stories that impact our economy, security and democratic values is a foreign concept. But the decline in rating shows me that I’m not alone in my concern or disinterest.
Cable news viewership has declined across the board and according to Nielsen, the only outlet that has gained viewers since the 2016 election is Fox News. As print and evening news journalists take a stand in reporting the facts and combating misinformation, this presents an opportunity for flagship names of cable news to stand up and produce real stories or close shop.
I believe in the power of journalism, but it is time to stop fueling the dangerous pathologies and rhetoric that got Donald Trump into the White House for bumps in viewership. Airing non-stop segments with inflammatory talking heads is not only leading to a decline in ratings, but a distrust and disinterest from the public. It’s time to give meaning to journalistic missions and stop fake news where it starts by going beyond the headlines and telling real stories.
In the digital age, the newsroom is at war and if democracy dies in the dark, then journalism is dying in daylight. Take the narrative that the media is all “fake news” from the President and tell Americas, and the world, what we’re searching for, the truth.