Tragedy Porn

 

By Matthew Patton

the guardsman

 

Did you know that we, as consumers of information, are addicted to tragedy? That we can’t get enough of it? So much so, that if/when you check the evening news, the newspapers or the websites… you can bank on there being some sort of tragedy front and center.

A man was killed in a drive by shooting in Oakland. A motorcyclist dies in a wreck. San Francisco fire officials have to defend the fact that it took 13 minutes to get an ambulance to the scene of a fire recently. All stories involving varying levels of tragedy and drama. All easily visible and accessible on The San Francisco Gate’s website. I got all that just from a glance.

What do you think I’d find if I kept digging into whatever else qualifies as the “latest news?” More importantly, why is this the most common type of topic that you see in the news, no matter what variation it takes?

It sells. It sells papers, it captures television ratings, it lures website hits. It tugs on your emotional strings, pointing towards the near loss (or outright loss) of life with a big sign overhead saying “isn’t this sad? Isn’t this horrible? I know… wait, don’t stop watching: there are these ads I want you to see. Those can help you get your mind off of things.”

Understand this, people: the news, in its current form, is nothing more than a business. Not the business of bringing you the relevant happenings of the day, be they local, national or worldwide. No, the news is nothing more than a giant campaign to get your eyes and ears tuned in to all the advertisements across their various platforms.

And to be clear: it’s just business now. Newspapers can’t sustain themselves on paper sales alone, especially not with the advent of digital and social media. Radio and television stations arguably have it worse. Who needs a radio when you can have podcasts? I can watch whatever show I want on my phone or computer. But they (radio and TV) have to stay relevant within the larger media entity. Advertisements give them a fighting chance to do that.

Which brings it full circle to you and me. Believe it or not, we have a say in the content that gets aired on our television sets. Content doesn’t drive ratings: it’s truly the other way around. Media corporations will bend their programming to whatever gets the most viewers, so advertisers can broadcast their products in the most efficient way possible.

We control that. If people suddenly stopped watching ABC’s “Scandal” or NBC’s “The Blacklist,” you had better believe that those programs would get yanked in an instant for whatever gets viewers back in front of those TVs.

The same holds true for the news we’re fed. If you stop watching, stop subscribing to the tragedy porn that almost every news outlet employs to get your attention, they will invariably change their approach. They will find something else to get our attention.

Holy crap. Maybe they’ll put something that’s positive on the airwaves. Wouldn’t that be something.

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