American Media: Fear and Ratings
Television relies heavily on it’s viewers; without ratings it’s business does not thrive. Marilyn Boemer, an author for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic media writes, “ Up to 40% of a stations annual revenue may come from the news stations operations. One additional rating point can mean up to $1 Million annually for a major market station.” (89). This can mean a significant amount of a channel’s ratings relies heavily on the amount of people attentive to the content presented on the News broadcasts. Arguably, the American News blurs the line of what is informative and what is a scheme to provoke fear and an array of other emotions to create a broader more emerged audience.
It was recently that this concept struck the minds of moviegoers with a compelling film by the title Nightcrawler. A St. Andrews student articulately discusses this in the online review. “Produced in a time of real life examples of phone hacking scandals and opaque ethics, the movie is a thematic statement about the degradation of media ethics.” In the film the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is a “nightcrawler”, a man who sells freelance footage of crimes, accidents and other trauma to news stations. Now, although films can be over-dramatizations, it’s still significantly powerful in suggesting the following. News broadcasts fear to provoke an emotional investment into their programming.
“In 1993, Dateline NBC, weathered a storm of controversy after broadcasting a story about allegedly fire prone gas tanks in General motor trucks. On the program, tests for the trucks had been rigged to ensure that they would explode.” (Sharpe, 1) As reported, Dateline’s pressure for ratings had pushed them to a questionable moral limit. Sharpe addresses the scandal by discussing the crews stress to present something exciting for viewers in order to keep ratings up and secure their employment. “It is clear that pressure to succeed can push reporters and producers past the point of honest reporting” (1.). NBC issued apologies, fired reporters and the President at the time, Michael Gartner, resigned.
The News does more than just rig stories for ratings, but incepts a paranoia in it’s audience that will overcome them with obsessive revisits for more answers.
The mass media play an important role in the construction of criminality and the criminal justice system. The public’s perception of victims, criminals, deviants, and law enforcement officials is largely determined by their portrayal in the mass media. Research indicates that the majority of public knowledge about crime and justice is derived from the media (Roberts and Doob, 1990; Surette, 1998). Therefore, it is imperative to examine the effects that the mass media have on attitudes toward crime and justice. (Habermas, 106)
As viewers develop ideas painted for them by the media, their worlds become surrounded by negative stigmas created to make them fear often racially offensive stereotypes of criminals.
They become more likely to stay inside and watch the news with the intentions of staying informed and avoiding the dangers that lurk behind their doors.
It isn’t a popular idea, and a controversial theory for sure, that people are more likely to be satisfied watching a station that emphasizes criminals as a specific demographic, which in most cases can be a young, black or Mexican man who dresses “urban” or “thuggish”. In fact for the first time recently, society has decided to fight back against these stereotypes. Currently in Ferguson, Missouri, people have taken to the streets to protest against cop cruelty. This has become a matter of whether or not it is right that cops can kill an innocent young black man because his demographic is what’s considered “dangerous”. This is the same as another series of events that occurred in Florida, where a young boy by the name of Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a man who said he was protecting himself. The news stations kept the story in favor of George Zimmerman at first, presenting pictures of Trayvon that could make him look like a troublemaker, but over time it became prevalent that the people did not agree. That people were on the side of Martin, and the stations followed suit, shifting the story towards Zimmerman’s terrible mistake, and eventually a story of racist murder.
As the generations shift, and more people become less reliant on mainstream television, people start to develop stronger opinions on how they feel about news broadcasting; about the system’s portrayal of the people and it’s ability to skew stories into emotional appeals that create feeling that aren’t backed by information, but led by fear.