Does the media’s constant turnover of more ‘exciting’ stories make us forget the real point of the news?

On Saturday 8 March, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing vanished. Since then, news media from around the world has covered the plane’s disappearance with near-religious dedication. As each hour ticks by, the media’s anticipation and speculation about what happened to the plane and its passengers becomes even greater. Sadly though, when the reason is discovered, and speculation ends, we can guarantee that they won’t spend quite so much time on the grief and tragedy of the people involved as they have on the feverish search.

We live in a world where the media’s ability to quickly refocus our attention onto the newest and most exciting of news stories is more important than our understanding them. This time last week, eyes were clearly fixed on the possibility of Russian military action on Ukrainian Naval bases in the Crimea. It was new and it was exciting, for the 48 hours where the spark leading to World War Three could have been ignited. There was no such ignition, and cooler heads prevailed. For the media, though, this was boring. On this occasion, nobody was dying, and no gunshots were fired. The only news was that political leaders from the West and Russia met to discuss and resolve the situation. Barely newsworthy. But then, the media was sent a gift in the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. Indeed, as soon as the flight went missing, completely refocusing the media’s attention, Ukraine and its genuinely difficult road ahead was put on the back burner.

The disappearance of the plane and the situation in Ukraine are both compelling stories that deserve to be covered. The problem resides in the media’s ability to lose interest in a story if another one deemed more likely to grab attention arises. Think about the news stories that remain perpetually pertinent: Lockerbie, 9/11 and 7/7. All of these stories involve death, mystery and intrigue. And the reason that they are still relevant is due to the fact that the mystery surrounding them continually provides new avenues of speculation for which the media can gain people’s attention.

The media no longer covers the liberalisation of Burma, the political and ethnic tensions in Libya, or the economic class divides in Venezuela because they are either too complex to understand, or do not have enough intrigue and mystery to make them interesting. The media will cover them if riots break out in the streets of Caracas, or fighting between different ethnic groups in Libya occurs. But after the riots stop, or the fighting subsides, the media will lose attention once again. In this fast-paced world, there are stories that may or may not involve conflict —but that does not mean they ought to be told less. The story does not finish after the climax, it finishes at the conclusion.


Matt Steele


Image Credit: Altair78