Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The bias of entertainment

“We absolutely have an incredible bias in the media, and that bias is not a political one that most of my friends on either end of the political spectrum might say that it is. It’s, in fact, a bias towards entertainment, and that entertainment can be a really good story or a really bad story. Anything that’s more complicated in-between usually is just hard for people to understand, and people in the media aren’t interested in covering that.”

--Marine Jonathon Kuniholm on National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” program, Nov. 10, 2009
Jonathon Kuniholm is an Iraq War veteran who lost his right arm below the elbow when his unit was attacked near the Euphrates River on New Year’s Day 2005. He now works with the Defense Department to improve the functionality and availability of prosthetic limbs.

His is a compelling and heroic story, but he finds that too often those who tell the story either get it wrong or over-simplify it in search of entertainment. While it’s easy to blame the American news consumer for wanting information delivered in simple, easy-to-digest nuggets for creating this Age of Entertainment, it falls to journalists to take the needed corrective action.

What we need to do is find a way to tell stories that are interesting and informative, entertaining and accurate, compelling and complete.

The thirst for stories is hardly a recent trend. Every civilization has placed a value on them, but we’ve never had so many efficient means to distribute them. It turns out that’s become a blessing and a curse.

It’s a curse because a lot of the stories that get told are warped, twisted, incomplete, over-simplified, shaded or otherwise not-completely-true versions of the actual facts. Kuniholm is right to note that the issue more often than not isn’t a political bias but a bias toward entertaining the information consumer. As the number of information sources continues to expand, the pressure to entertain becomes even greater.

Perhaps Americans will eventually grow weary of getting half, or less, of the story, or of only that which uplifts, outrages or, yes, entertains. But journalists have to get better at telling stories, because no one wants to read, hear or view a dry recitation of facts. Storytelling and journalism go hand in hand.

If anyone has a compelling story it’s Kuniholm, who not only has a Purple Heart, but has taken what could have been a tragic circumstance and made it his life’s work – to improve the lives of the thousands of Americans who have suffered the loss of a limb, the vast majority of whom are not veterans of the armed forces. That journalists have found it necessary to skew his story for entertainment value tells us how far we have to go.

No comments:

Post a Comment