What’s the Spin?

Victoria Cubera

In my mind, the question of journalistic responsibility is ambiguous. Charged with presenting an accurate and unbiased account of the daily news on a global scale, finding a high-profile journalist without apparent outside affiliations or biased perspectives might be difficult enough. Additionally, showcasing his or her work through a network without a slant could very well be impossible. Instead of seeking political advantage, the journalists would be presenting the truth as they found it, regardless of the fallout. Maybe the image of the fearless correspondent rooting out corruption and forgoing fame, fortune and a safe prime-time coverage broadcasting seat is simply a part of the mythos surrounding global reporting.

The principles of reporting or working with the news seem to have shifted from complete coverage of an issue to the goal of becoming a talking head, covering topics that will catch the public eye and incorporate themselves into mainstream pop culture. Presenting a fair account of events for the viewing public is giving way to sensationalism and commercialism. As for sensationalism, recent stories from the front page of CNN’s site include “Shark chomps head of man diving for weeds” and “Mummified baby found in storage locker”. Interesting? Yes. Tragic? Yes. Worthy of appearing on the CNN home page for breaking news? Debatable. Credibility comes into question as money changes hands; advertisements play before video news clips on The New York Times online, and on major network sites like CNN, FOX and MSNBC, implying either sponsorship by the corporation advertised or a profit system fostered by taking advantage of the public’s desire to be informed.

Does a journalistic responsibility beyond entertainment exist? Are the reporters covering topics under life and entertainment or arts and features less important than those reporting on genocide or political scandal? Qualifying the worth of an individual’s perspective, whether to provide comic relief or to compile an account of the battlegrounds, isn’t really fair. Realistically, not everyone can or wants to address the war in Iraq or the possible ramifications of China possessing anti-satellite technology.

Journalists have been jeopardized by their work; they’ve been kidnapped, assaulted and even killed. Hrant Dink, shot down in Turkey; Anna Politkovskaya, murdered in Russia; Daniel Pearl, kidnapped and executed in Pakistan. All three were attacked for reasons directly related to their work. Dissenting opinions can be deadly.

I suppose I’m writing partially out of a sense of guilt. When writers have died covering stories, should I be devoting my time to raising serious questions and issues than comparing people to types of chocolate, as in my November 30 article? I have to ask to what extent do I, or any writer, owe the public a socially conscious body of work. Or as a young college student in the United States, is it more important that I am simply writing and thus exercising a freedom of speech not necessarily attainable in other regions, whether that entails writing about college relationship drama or the threat behind global warming?

Working with a college paper has increased my awareness of journalism in general, teaching me to pay attention to what events garner greater coverage in the media. While the apparent feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell may be more entertaining than the medical progress enabling partial face transplants, both stories have their slot in the news, and ultimately deserve them. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are not limited to arbitrarily categorized “hot topic” issues, and the ability to reach wider masses of people can be cultivated by carefully pandering to mainstream appeal. I do not feel obligated every week to write commentary on controversy, but I do think that issues like abortion, same sex marriage and whether politicians taking their oath of office can choose to protest and work against certain sections of the state and federal constitutions require more publicity than the best-dressed of the Golden Globes. I’m afraid of America becoming complacent with whatever is presented on their news channel of choice, and not being challenged to dig deeper and find another angle to the issue.

Journalistic responsibility may not entail delivering a hard-hitting, globally aware story every week, but I do think journalists carry the responsibility to keep the masses interested in what is going on in the world around them, to remain listening and paying attention.

If that means Superbowl Sunday supercedes news on the latest exploratory committee formed for a presidential candidate, so be it. Go Colts.