Mainstream media tends toward sensationalism, excessive coverage too often

Memo Hutson

The World Health Organization released a report on Oct. 26 stating that certain processed meats are carcinogenic. Thereafter, mainstream media sources began their incessant coverage of the issue and distorted the reality of the findings. Headlines reading “sizzling questions on red meat” and “stop pigging out on bacon” littered media outlets.

A recent headline from The Guardian reads “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes — WHO.” From reading the headline, one would surmise that eating meat is equally as carcinogenic as smoking cigarettes, which is not the case.

In an online Q&A on the carcinogenicity of processed meat, the International Agency for Research on Cancer emphatically stated that although processed meat was classified as “group 1: carcinogenic to humans” alongside tobacco, it “does not mean that they are all equally as carcinogenic.”

Various news outlets undermined the WHO report’s findings through reactionary, fear-mongering reporting. The  greater issue was the consumption of news media, not meat.

With the availability of news media in contemporary society, it is imperative we filter out the chaff — the sensationalized non-stories and the excessive coverage on one single report. The recent WHO report and its coverage is a perfect example of a larger problem facing mainstream media. Incidents regarding Malaysian airlines and the threat of Ebola coming to America garnered incredibly excessive coverage from news sources like CNN and Fox News. The decision to go after ratings, views or likes, from these once reputable news sources is at the expense of good journalistic practice.

Journalism professor Robert Jensen said the over-reporting is an example of mainstream media’s shortcomings when reporting large-scale issues.

“You’re talking about the reporting of complex questions,” Jensen said. “Is that sensationalism or is it simply that some forms of media are not very good at dealing with complex questions? There is a lot of critique of the way contemporary media works. Do cable television news outlets routinely do the worst job of reporting on complex subjects? Yes. It superficially covers complex subjects.”

The real question, as Jensen puts it, is “Why do commercial/advertising driven media consistently behave in ways that aren’t useful for deeper public understanding?” Excessive reporting regarding any issue invites rampant speculation instead of actual fact. It also invites a misunderstanding of the issue on behalf of the viewer and reader, as the piece of news they are observing only touches the surface.

Hutson is a history senior from El Paso. Follow him on Twitter @MemoHutson.