Media consumption – the violence debate

The media’s portrayal of violence has become the dominant theme in the news and has begun creeping deeper into our personal lives and perception of the world outside the television or newspaper. 

As of lately, violence reigns in the hierarchy of news coverage; and the news media dictates what stories should be more important, but the average media consumer never really thinks about the strategy behind what they see or read. 

Researchers have studied the amount of violence in the media since radio and television were first being created, but there are not very many studies being conducted currently.

As news programs tend to always find ways to stay conveniently excluded from most of these studies the few studies that included news media into their sampling population simply conclude the obvious; violence is the focal point of the news and predominately stories about violence that resulted in death. 

These studies recorded what stories were shown throughout various news programs and most of the programs covered stories that involved violence. Most of the research calculated that 50 percent or more of the time news programs contained stories about violence. That means 50 percent of the time the news had to use up, covered stories about violent crimes, and more than half of the stories were about violent crimes.

Most of these studies involved watching news stations, local and national, for at least three months at a time and measured the time used on stories about violence.

An enigmatic case of a strategically over-played story of violence in the media came to us last year with the tragic Aurora shooting.  Early on, news outlets did a good job of reporting and covering the incident and releasing all the details, but the coverage quickly got redundant. The over reporting was apparent on every news station, every day and for months.  It became clear quickly that the will for quality reporting transformed into an occasion for the news media to, once again, resurrect the issue of gun control or second amendment rights.

For many of us, constant coverage of the Aurora shooting was fatiguing, but media directors made the strategic decision to keep running the story and force it into relevancy, but why? 

Individual news producers, editors, and program directors hold to their own theories of how to get ratings or sell papers.  Yet most media leaders agree violent stories are a quick way to keep the viewer’s and reader’s attention. 

How do we measure the give and take of constant exposure to violent media?

“Bad News Revisited: The Portrayal of Violence, Conflict, and Suffering on Television News,” tackles this issue.  Johnson’s study monitored television news broadcasts over a six month period and measured the violent stories that were shown. It included national network news, local news, independent super-station news and cable network news.  

This research was then compared with other studies that were conducted in earlier years.  It was argued that news corporations overemphasize violent crimes and these news stories are falling short of providing true contextual explanations of current events. It even went further to say that the news feeds more on the tragic and emotional elements of current events, which can have long-term affect on individual’s perception of the real world. 

Detectives have been saying for years that mass murder shooters might have been negatively affected and influenced to kill by the news media. The Newtown shooter, some have argued, was a copy-cat killer, who wished to murder more people than a particular Norwegian mass shooter. It’s ironic that the news corporations like NBC, CNN, and local news stations like KOAA have been the ones mentioning this correlation between mass shootings and the shooter’s exposure to violent stories in the news. 

This is when critics begin to question the philosophy of media, which has been essentially the same since the dawn of the twentieth century. Researchers like Marshall McLuhan and Walter Benjamin tried to explain people’s relationship with media.

McLuhn explained how people watched their TV so much that they actually started to believe they were more connected with the TV than the people around them. So when they watched TV, these messages being relayed through the media were actually being massaged into the human mind. 

Media technology has become so advanced, that there are no limitations to what people can see or hear. People can re-watch stories about serial killers and mass murders at their leisure; however, in most cases this is unnecessary because the news stations will do that for you already.  Repetition is a form of remembrance for the human mind and if a story is over reported, then people are subconsciously going to be led to remember these things they have repeatedly heard and seen. 

Are news directors purposely recycling these stories? Most editors, producers, and directors say no and some news directors have asserted that they are simply reporting what’s really happening. There’s no easy way to explain why media leaders choose the stories you see on TV, but some people have come to the conclusion that it’s a form of covert influence. 

Why would the news stations want to influence you covertly?  Is it business – ratings and reader retention, or might is it personal – political and ideological conditioning? There is no conclusive evidence supporting either of these claims, but it really makes you wonder.

Critical media consumers have to make their own decision about what media she or he will frequent. Whether consumers feel the media shows too much violence or the violence is simply an expression of liberty, the one certain fact is the media doesn’t show any signs of changing its programming.

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