If you approached any student on campus and asked them what they remember of the media coverage in IV after the tragic events in May, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has a positive thing to say. American media coverage of tragedies, specifically shootings, is flawed, and filled with fear mongering and reporting on rumors.
It’s sometimes hard to see, since we are so constantly surrounded by it, but the recent attack on the Parliamentary building in Ottawa has highlighted the difference between how Canada covers the news and how America covers the news. American media goes for the big, dramatic headlines, the xenophobic attempts to pin the attack on some extremist Islamic group, and the angle that’ll induce the most fear.
While CNN is certainly not the only offender, nor the worst, its coverage of the shooting made me incredibly frustrated. Headlines, for example, such as, “Terrorist murdered soldier ‘in cold blood,’ Canada’s Prime Minister says” incite fear and answer no questions the public may have concerning what happened, where it happed, or how to stay safe.
In comparison, the breaking news story Canada put out was titled “Soldier dies in attack on Parliament, gunman also found dead.” That answers so many questions one may have about the attack, and though it’s not flashy, it’s what news should be. It shouldn’t be about headlines or stories that resemble blockbuster flick taglines, it should be about getting as many solid facts out as soon as the news agency is capable.
Another problem with glamourous headlines is how often they misreport stories or mislead readers (often with a focus on spreading the killer’s name). For example, a story on CNN’s site claims, “Ottawa gunman had ties to jihadist.” The headline is eye-catching no doubt, and anyone just scrolling through the site would just take that information in and move on. But if you click on the story, it literally says in the second stanza that “Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that there is ‘no evidence at this stage’ that [the shooter] was linked to a wider group, or network, of jihadists.”
So here’s my question: why even bother putting the story up? Why not change the headline to “Foreign Minister Concludes Shooter Had No Extremist Ties”? That would be much more informative, less misleading, and certainly less xenophobic. Those types of headlines have made it so the first thought that runs through the minds of many American is “Were Muslims involved?” That’s just an example of how the media can influence an entire society’s way of thinking. We’ve come to focus on specific key words and topics that may not even be a part of the story at all.
I think that CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and other American news networks should use the example that Canadian media, the CBC specifically, provide as how to properly report news. It shouldn’t be about what the American public is attracted to and how many views the story would get. Canadian media seems to want what’s best for its consumers, and perhaps it understands that during a tragedy, the last thing people needs it to be harassed, given incorrect information, or made to feel like they don’t have the time or space to heal. It understands what will be best for its citizens and gives it to them.
Just because a scary, dramatic headline garners views, doesn’t mean its topic is what the media needs to report. The job of the news is to inform, to keep the public updated on what is going on around the world, and to be thorough in their reporting. Anyone who went through the tragedy in May should appreciate how capable the Canadian media is at reporting on tragedies, and we should all expect the same from American media.
Don’t forget that we feed into the system. If we click on stories with gaudy headlines, we’re reduced to statistics for online traffic, not people who need to have an accurate story reported to them. I, for one, do not want to be a statistic some CEO shows his colleagues when reporting how successful the latest terror story was.