By Erin Burt
I am an information junkie.
I have always been fascinated with current events. In elementary school, while my friends watched “G.I. Joe”, “Transformers” or “Rainbow Bright,” I was watching the evening news. As teenagers, my friends poured over mystery and romance novels and I scoured newspapers and collected clips of my favorite articles. I thrive on information. It does more for me than create interesting dinner conversation – events shape my world, my perceptions and my actions.
A stigma is often attached to my area of study in journalism. Some view my decision to willfully become a part of the media as if I had surrendered my soul to the devil. But while some may view the media as the source of all evil in the universe, I say the media are a necessary component of our society. The media inform, intrigue and even inspire.
We live in the information age. Walls of silence, secrecy and mystery have come down. No longer must I hop on a plane to China if I want to learn about the culture, the government or the hottest issues on that side of the globe. I click a mouse, I aim a remote control, I pick up a newspaper, and this is enough. The world is a smaller place because the media is doing its job – disseminating information.
The media, however, often get a bad rap for doing its job. When people cannot explain a problem in society the finger is automatically pointed at the media. I cannot tell you how often I hear complaints that the media get into other people’s business, waste our time with pointless stories, create problems where there were none and bring information into our homes that we don’t want to know. The media are blamed for all societal problems from the breakdown of the family to teen violence to influencing voter turnout.
The Universe, too, has been subject to such criticism. How dare it print a story about a fight club in Provo or a NCMO Web site? It could give BYU a bad name. How dare it reveal the threat of identity theft and be specific in where students should not leave personal information? Now the thieves know where to look. How dare it continue to print Elian articles? It’s just milking the poor kid’s story for all it’s worth.
Whether you like it or not, these are the events that make up the world we live in.
Suppressing information is dangerous. The free-flow of information keeps people, businesses and government systems in check through a network of media outlets. Just because you are not interested in a particular issue or do not want to know about an issue is no excuse for the media to shut its eyes to a problem in hopes it will go away.
So you’re sick of Elian. So you’re fed up with George W. this and Al Gore that. So you’re tired of Chinese trade agreements.
The media must report these issues or a breakdown of information will occur. But while the media are not perfect, society’s very existence and continuance absolutely depends on them.
There have been instances where irresponsible reporting has garnered negative results. In 1996, a bomb at the Olympic park in Atlanta was blamed on security guard Richard Jewell, but only after the media singled him out on speculation.
Two years later, and after his reputation had been ruined, the FBI found him to be innocent. There have also been incidents when distasteful photos have been printed for mere shock value and profit, and the tabloids are notorious for exploitation. But this is where readers must do their part and hold the information distributors in check through public commentary.
If the media were selective in its information, society would have even more problems than it does now due to cover-ups or ignorance of the people.
Besides, if the media didn’t do its job, how would this information junkie spend her Friday nights?