Tour De Frantic: The Race of News Cycles

Up and down the arduous terrain of the Pyrenees and the Alps, across a distance of 3,500 kilometres, wind gushing against the arrow-like form of bicyclists, with every muscle and sinew working and adrenaline filled blood, is the toughest, oldest and most prestigious cycling tournament, the Tour de France.

News channels and networks are in a similar race to be the first in ratings, the first in audience share, the first to the scoop … to be first.

And just like the Tour de France is riddled with controversy, blood transfusions, EPO use, conflicts of interest, sweetheart deals, corporate concerns, threat induced stories and levying allegations irrespective of veracity, so too is the race for each news cycle.

Should we question what is being fed to us by the media? Should we question why it is being fed to us? Or should we sit back and enjoy the race?

News cycles refer to the media reporting on an event followed by public and expert reactions on the same. 24×7 news networks coupled with the advancements in Internet news has increased the pace with which these cycles are churned.

This is the crux of the Faster Feiler Thesis. Mickey Kaus explains;

“The news cycle is much faster these days, thanks to 24-hour cable, the Web, a metastasized pundit caste constantly searching for new angles, etc. As a result, politics is able to move much faster, too, as our democracy learns to process more information in a shorter period and to process it comfortably at this faster pace”[i].

He further explains that the idea is not saying that information is moving at faster speeds but that as a populace we are getting comfortable in processing all the information at faster speeds[ii].

Given the nature of the access to information by the public at large experts in media and political science studies have theorized two effects, namely the ‘CNN Effect’ and the ‘Al Jazeera Effect’.

The ‘CNN Effect’ refers to the change in depth and extent with which the media plays a part in shaping foreign policy in a representative democracy. Former Secretary of State, James Baker said,

“The one thing it [the CNN effect] does is to drive policymakers to have a policy position. I would have to articulate it very quickly. You are in real-time mode. You don’t have time to reflect.”

While his former press secretary, Margaret Tutwiler, said,

“Time for reaction is compressed. Analysis and intelligence gathering is out”[iii].

On the other hand, the ‘Al Jazeera Effect’ is the effect that new media has on global politics reducing the monopoly of state sponsored or mainstream media. The term is coined with reference to Al Jazeera as a news network, which aided in the democratization of information flow alongside giving a voice to marginalized groups [iv].

Emphasis is being placed on the power of the media in shaping perception. An opinion is formed based on the information provided. Being the information provider, old and new media outlets, for the lack of a better word, control the path on which this is formed. But what of the path the media outlet itself is taking? The question that I aim to ask is what is the focus of this power of shaping perception?

In the book “Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media”, former journalists Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel state that 24 hour news has created a ferocious competition for audience share between the media institutions. They explain that,

“the press has moved toward sensationalism, entertainment and opinion and away from traditional values of verification, proportion, relevance, depth and quality of interpretation.”

They explain their fear of the advent of “journalism of assertion”, which removes the emphasis of the values mentioned above and whether a claim is valid whilst encouraging putting the claim into forum of public discussion and debate as soon as possible.[v]

So is the media focused on the perception it is shaping? Is it a balanced approach of putting information and opinion across or is it bordering on a propaganda-esque approach that George Orwell was kind enough to warn us about? Is the focus on corporate concerns and retaining the power to shape perception and not on the perception being created at all?

Perception shaping can at the same time be too much for one to control and too much control for one. The direction that the media has taken has caused a perception that terrorism can and should be equated to the religion of Islam. The onset of a trial by media can be far scarier than facing the Mountain in a trial by combat (yes, I managed to get a Game of Thrones reference in, such is the profound impact it has had on me). The number of people marching in defense for the attack on Charlie Hebdo vis a vis the coverage given to the thousands of people killed by Boko Haram in the same week begs the question what is our perception of the news. It took a student to tweet the abhorrent track records that some of the politicians, present at the march, have when it comes to protecting freedom of speech and expression.[vi]

Makes one wonder whether there was some obfuscation with the coverage that was attributed to the Ebola scare. Dr. David Katz, President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, explained in the wake of the Ebola scare that,

“The news cycle was designed to gravitate between afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”[vi]

This fast paced news cycle de-sensitizes us, making us vulnerable to a state of panic and at the same time apathetic to another’s situation. There is a tendency of the Fourth Estate to report on horrific news while adhering to the requirement for a status quo to be maintained for them to be able to carry on making money or staying in power. Thus, no physical change can be attributed to the media’s approach to that specific news cycle. In fact we’re left in a dazed state of confusion trying to stumble back to our own thoughts. I’m not attacking the media, I can’t since I’m using the medium to get this across to you, a reader who has humoured me enough to keep reading till here.

Should we ask why the coverage aims to confuse us? In asking these questions, we learn not just the perception being portrayed but we also see our own perceptions reflected on the screens …

Do they love what they’re doing and deserve to be paid for their efforts (Capitalists’s perception)? Do they have an underlying craving for attention and power (Machiavellian’s perception)? Are they attempting to fill in a void in their lives that can’t be replaced by food, booze or companionship (let’s hope not)? Or are they just under the influence (Law Student’s perception)? But are they not under some kind of influence (Wordsmith)? Or are they attempting to sort through “deep rooted personal issues” causing anxiety and stress and this could be the outlet (Freudian, damn I slipped)?

Maybe they’re all right or all wrong, but that isn’t the issue. The fact is that each perception has been arrived at with given information, analysed and debated, and lastly displayed and absorbed through prisms of personal prejudice; a perception chosen not fed!

Let this not lose in this race of news cycles.

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