Saturday, November 19, 2011

News Distortion At Its Best...or Worst

Came across a tease for a news article of a fatal bus crash tragedy on a major news source. The tease screams at you with a picture of a school bus torn and gnarled and tipping over a ravine. The headline mentions some important aspects of a news story like a possibly reason to why the bus crashed, being "overpacked," and who was involved "18 kindergartners killed." The stimuli/picture/captions tug at our heart strings and we as readers, parents and human beings instantly put ourselves in sympathy mode as we think how awful it must be for the parents, family and school for these children. We also think how could this happen to such innocent children and where? Is my child effected? Is this near some distant relatives of mine?

Literally, the way the headline reads and the information they give makes us want to click and read to find out where this horrible bus crash occurred, because you are sure it's local. Well, all of these emotions went through me and I had to find out where in the United States this happened. I click and find out the bus crash was in China.

The entire second picture shocks me. Not only is the bus crash out of China and not the United States but, the school bus itself is different. The top picture is the traditional American school bus and the bottom is a yellow van, not necessarily known as a "school bus" to Americans. The top picture gives us every indication that it is an American school bus crash and therefore an important story for all Americans to read about because it may involve our children's safety. The bus picture change and the patent omission of where the bus crash occurred is "localizing" a news story for an American reader where our initial emotions or responses are raw. We expect to read a story that is going to sadden us about the tragedy, but also provide a critical commentary on the dangers of having a over-crowded American bus, a vehicle that historically has never had any seat belts. Now, the emotion to the fact that 18 innocent children's lives were taken shouldn't change, but we still breathe a collective sign of relief that it doesn't effect us or our children in America. But, alas, major news sources like AOL, Yahoo and MSN benefit off of our emotions not only in the wording or pictures used in their stories that distort the real facts, but also make money (pennies) on the frequentcy that readers click the "read more" option.

I don't think it's right that news corporations make money off of our emotions or responses to headlines, but that's been happening since broadcast news began. The same tactics are now used with internet news sources that depend on subscribers, reader traffic and article clicks for their revenue. Watch for these kind of new articles where the wording is a little bit off or some huge part of the puzzle is missing like "where." Didn't we learn about the "who,what,when,where,why and how" paradigm in grade school?

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