The side-by-side cover shots above are stolen from my friend John Maniaci’s Facebook page. John is one of the most talented news photographers in the country, whose work formerly graced the State Journal and the Cap Times. These days John is a colleague of my wife’s at UW-Health, where his phenomenal talent captures unforgettable images of world-class health care providers and the people who benefit from their skill.
Look at the contrast in the two cover-shots above: a true study in divergent approaches to telling a story with a photograph. To use John’s own words, “Sports Illustrated – tells the story in a single image, instantly, preserving the anonymity of the runner. Time – horrible; says nothing about the race and puts this poor kid front and center.”
To me, the Time Magazine cover photo represents many of the things that are wrong with modern mass (well, not so “mass” any more, for Time) media. Without the caption "Tragedy in Boston", the photo represents nothing but a traumatized child. Like television, the news magazine's default position has become “EXCESS”. Images of crying or traumatized children are exploited, just as in the Sandy Hook mass murders. Televised interviews are fraught with people breaking down in tears. No cloying emotion is left unexploited.
And the most stupid of questions are asked by supposedly seasoned reporters: “What did it feel like?”
As if we are devoid of imagination, and can’t possibly conceive of what it might be like to be trapped in a classroom or theater with an insane gunman on the loose, or in a group watching an event when suddenly a shrapnel bomb goes off. As if we can’t imagine what it’s like to have a limb hacked off by a ball-bearing going a thousand miles an hour.
There is no such thing as subtlety in modern mass media; in fact, it’s quite the contrary.
Ten seconds of video showing the bomb-blast on Boylston Street is run over and over and over and over, in a seemingly endless loop – just the same as the media showed the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsing – again and again and again and again. And the frightened children being led away from the schoolhouse, again and again and again, over and over and over.
This is the grist of the modern media mill.
And the insane scramble to get ANY new “information” on the air, which results in huge mistakes in fact. It’s Ryan Lanza. No, it’s Adam Lanza. No, it’s Ryan Lanza. No, it’s Adam Lanza. He had four guns. Or two. Or six. Or ten. There’s another bomb at the JFK Library. Wait, no there isn’t. Wait, there is. OK now we think there isn’t. The suspected bomber is in custody. No, he’s not. He is. Is not.
If credibility were important, there’d be a lot of losers in the news game these days.
Modern media has become Twitter – a huge volume of empty talk, a lot of unsupported assertion, a lot of unattributed “fact”, a lot of noise. Nuggets of truth.
And no one in news content management insists the time be taken to filter the raw feed and sift the truth from the chaff.
It's all about speed, not accuracy.
And cloying emotion.