Staff Editorial – It’s time to hold the media accountable

Sensationalism is a fickle thing.

In celebrity culture, it is used to cultivate gossip, giving people everywhere clickbait headlines to like and retweet.

In politics, it is used to spread propaganda against a particular candidate or party, mislabeling scandals and spurring tensions among both sides.

But more often than not, sensationalism is used to transform a dystopic and inane aspect of society into a feel-good story that is easily digestible to general audiences.

For those who are unaware, sensationalist writing in journalism is essentially any journalism that might bend or warp the truth to evoke emotional reactions from the widest variety of people possible. While sensationalist writing within political journalism and celebrity gossip err on the side of misinformation and intentionally omission of key details, the mass media market’s insistence on repackaging injustices as tales of heroism is heavily reliant on appealing to one’s pathos above all else.

In late January, CBS News reported on how a rural area in New York saw local high school students train to maintain a cripple volunteer ambulance service. Titled “American youth to the rescue”, the news report primarily focused on how teenagers had stepped in to fill in a void left after immunocompromised and elderly members of the volunteer service were fearful to go out due to the pandemic, completely dancing around the reality that teenagers are attempting to fill in a void that the government should be filling in already.

According to the National Rural Health Association (NHRA), 35% of emergency medical services are entirely volunteer-run, with close
to 70% struggling to find help. This statistic was briefly mentioned in the report, along with a harrowing account from a teenage volunteer of how they had to inform loved ones that a family member of theirs had passed away.

So why is the news report writing off this issue to promote high schoolers as heroes rather than victims of a broken system? Because empowering stories of heroes are significantly easier to sell than stories that highlight what society is doing incorrectly. We have got to stop enabling this behavior.

As our high school’s newspaper, we strive to bring accurate information in a way that highlights hot button issues in our local community without sacrificing our credibility and without detracting from the hard work of any other individuals. But we rely on students to continue to hold us accountable for not just the individual errors in the words we print, but also those in the stories we tell. With our staff consisting of students of all grade levels, backgrounds, and cultures, there are a lot of opinions to go around. Even on a larger scale, viewers are bombarded with an influx of sensationalist pieces from media outlets fighting to stay relevant. But we cannot lose sight of what the role of a media organization is, regardless of how big our world gets.

Media organizations should give a voice to the unheard, tell stories of injustices, and bring attention to issues that do not get enough of it. They should never warp the truth, especially when it concerns the lives of others.

Creating a sensationalist piece for a paycheck instead of addressing the root of the problem lies in the face of the role of journalistic outlets globally, and it is something that we wish to never fall victim to when telling the stories of the 3600 students and beyond here at Mason.

Hold us accountable, MHS.