Media Only Needs a Second to Influence Us
Years ago, most of us needed to read most of an article to find out what the headlines were talking about. While priding themselves in dramatic headlines in order to sell the news, most headlines were cryptic in their meaning.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” These were the famous words of a street-corner newspaper boy 70 or so years ago. Headlines may have been about WW11, the Great Depression, mob activities, prohibition, The New Deal, or many other history-making events. But headlines were like mysteries. They were come-ons for the much bigger story. Hints of the drama were splashed in huge banner headlines of every major newspaper in America. People were attracted to headlines and bought newspapers because they wanted, as they then termed, the “scoop”. This term was used by reporters who went to unimaginable lengths to be the first to report and photograph history in the making.
Well, similar to the Big Screen of bygone days, the Big Band era, and teletype, the allure and promise of bigger things to come in newspaper reporting, has cashed in for a gaudier version of itself. As a partial result, newspapers have gone out of business all over the world, and headlines not only do not attract readers, but actually repel them.
The mindset of America and the world has changed. The story line of any feature can no longer be guaranteed to sell newspapers, and the public seems to demand it all up front, in sound bytes. No longer having the time or the patience for the entire story, many headlines simply toss it in the reader’s face. Like a drive-by shooting, we can be assaulted now at our kitchen tables, in the den or in any private room in our homes with shocking headlines that we might just as soon not know about. Not only do we not wish to delve further into the horrors that the “new press” is bent upon inflicting on its readers, but we find we cannot avoid it.
One only has to open their computer, their newspaper or even the newest versions of cell phones to see the polluted foam of a diseased society, in stark pictoral or verbal detail. In-your-face news is churned out daily like fast food on an assembly line, lacking in quality and depth. We have gotten so used to the discomfort of poor quality in almost every aspect of our lives, we often don’t even notice when we become not just physically ill from bad food products, but spiritually ill from a constant overload of toxic headlines.
The opportunity for media to exploit the one second chance to influence readers is not lost on them. Like horses at the starting gate, the millisecond start can make the difference in winning the race. In this case it can be to influence public opinion, solidify political positions, frighten the public for the purpose of selling new laws without protest, or distracting the masses with “shock and awe” while larger and more important issues are being overlooked.
One second is all it takes to influence us. Isn’t that amazing? It is equally amazing that because of this, tabloid headlines have excelled, with the result of much collateral damage in the public’s ability to think for themselves based on facts and information. Part of the problem is that the “meat” of the story, if it exists, is buried somewhere in mediocre script that few people have the time or inclination to read. Being a nation of sound byte addicts, we form our positions based on the last few week’s headlines, but are vague on any substantial details surrounding our positions.
Many of us can no longer discern good reporting or important news. We absorb the bad with the good, the important with the insignificant. Headlines now simply mix it all together in a poisonous mash, dished out in thousands of assembly-line media outlets 24 hours a day for indiscriminate readers who can no longer strain out the undesirable messages.
The time was when being a good reporter required education, experience and drive. The playing field has flattened, allowing anyone who can type, access to our minds, our spirits, our views of the world and our feelings. No longer are we determining for ourselves what we want to think about, as we are injected with advertising and information from every corner of conscious humanity.
It may be time to defend ourselves, by deliberate design of our information highway. No longer content with CNN, Fox News, CBS, Yahoo or any commercial and bought-off media outlets, this author is going to begin to fill her main computer pages with news from more reliable outlets that still have a great reputation for good reporting and quality content. Seeking out sources for higher thinking and IQ’s that naturally find higher ground, this author can only assume that the cleaner air found there will be much easier to breathe.