Frontline Lessons from Other Sectors · Local Issues

News For Views

I’m no Pulitzer prize winner, but I know enough about journalism now to know this – Newsday is a shit newspaper.

And I think the good folks that edit news there are very aware of this truth as well. I can’t blame the people who write news. But their editors over the last 5 or so years have lost all of their scruples. May 16th 2016 proved that again for Newsday, with them displaying the bodies of two men shot dead. This is not the first time. They’ve posted the photo of a toddler from a fatal car crash around 2009, to almost no outrage.

I’m not going to post the photos. For obvious reasons.

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Well, to be honest, I’m not sure the reasons are that obvious. Of course, me and a lot of colleagues of mine expressed their own outrage at the front page. But a lot of folks didn’t even notice, or at least didn’t notice that something was wrong. Maybe the average Trinbagonian already thought we were headed in this direction – heads found in dumpsters, young men gunned down in cold blood on their way to school… We’re one headline away from becoming season two of Marvel’s Daredevil. And, with the advent of social media, it’s so much easier to find these traumatic images without journalists even leaving the newsroom. We’re all seeing it, all the time, whether we like it or not. But that’s precisely the problem; between the desensitization or vicarious trauma (something that even journalists are experiencing when they witness traumatic events) the things that we are showing people is having its effect.

Newspapers, especially ones with varying success and huge competitors like the Newsday, feel like they need to do more to grab eyes. That’s made even more understandable when you add the prevailing industry thought that print is dying. Like I said, a lot of folks probably didn’t notice the gruesome Newsday front page. And they’re trying eagerly to fix that at all costs, even the huge moral one that they’ve been paying in installments since 2009.

And Newsday is not the only culprit. Almost every local TV channel has aired problematic content from the nation’s most infamous crime reality star Ian Alleyne, who’s aired the same corpse of a toddler from a fatal car crash, attempted to perform a real autopsy live on TV, and even showed the sexual assault of a minor in prime time. Even though all of these incidents played a part in his show, CrimeWatch, being removed from one TV station after another, it’s less of a punishment and more of a million-dollar game of catch. No matter how many broadcast codes and national laws he’s broken on live television, Ian Alleyne still has a show.

So, as a journalist of sorts myself, I’ve got to ask the question…are we the reason that our news media feels it has to disregard our sensitivities to make money?

For the record, I don’t think the solution is just trigger warnings and parental guidance ratings. It’s just an opportunity for news agencies to use even less mindfulness in producing these kinds of disturbing content. I think the entire vocabulary of trauma in news needs to change – to communicate the gravity of trauma in ways that is both impartial and impactful, to make the visuals of gore less necessary in making news. it probably means moving past the stiff news language we employ now and allow ourselves to tell more emotive news. But that’s something we have to work towards.

What we can do now, though, is something that me and some colleagues have asked for more than 5 years ago – cancel Ian Alleyne’s CrimeWatch, and prevent other personalities from bending the rules of journalistic integrity and media mindfulness. We also need to sanction editors like current Newsday chief editor Jones P. Madeira, to let them know that we won’t accept this much further. We need to create clear rules to hold media practitioners accountable, and a robust body that can and will take the fight to media houses that disregard those rules.

But then we need to hold ourselves accountable. Because we ignored the importance of news media to society and democracy, we have media agencies that are fighting to keep the lights on instead of preserving their responsibility to us. Because we weren’t outspoken about what traumatizes us, they think that everything is fair game.

Now, we don’t have news. We have screenshots from the next John Wick movie. And it’s only going to get worse…

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