Find the big picture amidst media sensationalism

Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy

How does what you read shape your life? How does the media you consume drive your habits, feelings and perception? As consumers in an ever-growing media marketplace for news and entertainment, we are exposed to more information than ever before, and it can be difficult to make sense of everything happening around us. In the age of digitization, 24-hour news cycles, trending topics and breaking stories all demand more attention and time than most people have, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as a consumer. However, it is vital to hunt through all the headlines to find perspective on the events that shape society.

The nature of competition and survival in news these days make it difficult for organizations to offer perspective on events to their audiences, which puts the onus on consumers to sift through information and find the “big picture” themselves. The industry is currently so fast-paced that news stations have to focus on getting the most up-to-date information out to consumers as fast as possible. Because of this emphasis on speed to compete and survive, news organizations have less time to process the information for what’s most relevant to consumers, leaving the responsibility to digest information and identify trends to us in the audience. There are examples of this is news and entertainment alike.

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Take our local news, for example. Last fall, local headlines were dominated by reports of a string of sexual assaults and theft. To many consumers, this might have given them the impression that Fort Collins is a dangerous area, or led some to speculate that local crime is increasing because our city is expanding, when both of those conclusions couldn’t be further from the truth. In the big picture, Fort Collins actually has a crime rate lower than the national average for areas of its size, and has seen crime around town decrease for a decade. According to City Data, the crime rate in Fort Collins in 2012 was significantly lower than its crime rate in 2000. This kind of perspective is hard for news to offer because of the increasingly fast-paced nature of the business. One can’t take facts at face value as a consumer and hope to get the whole story. Crime reporters have to deliver stories of gruesome events because they’re timely and important, but their work generally bears little statistical significance to the overall crime levels of an area. Reporting is still adapting to the digital age, and many organizations still do not have the time or resources to deliver the “big picture” view to audiences.

Like anything else one experiences, the media we consume shapes our lives; any information we see, read or hear has the potential to drive our habits and affect our feelings and perceptions of the world around us, even if we don’t consciously choose it to do so. In the age of digital media, we as consumers are exposed to far more information than we ever before, and news organizations are too busy striving to adapt to offer perspective on events. The responsibility now lies with us to navigate the deluge and find the big picture for ourselves.

Collegian Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.