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Monday, July 02, 2007

Warning! Journalism ahead.

"I shouldn't care what people think or say. It's just the fact that everyone knows I'm the kid. It was bigger than Houston. It was bigger than Texas. It was bigger than America. Everybody in the world knew what had happened and everybody knew the details of it."
-David Ritcheson

I can always depress myself by reading headlines. I came across this story and was reminded once again on how much today's media fails us. Here's a young man who was made a victim, not once, but twice. First by the deviant actions of some classmates and second by a media hell bent on exposing every disturbing detail of the crime to the world at large in the hopes of scoring more viewers and readers. This is a disturbing trend. Not only do we have to worry about excessive sex and violence in our movies, video games, websites and TV shows (many of it fictional, and grossly exaggerated) ; we have to be weary when reading the headlines and watching the news with our families after dinner. No longer is the journalist concerned with passing along information, he or she seeks to expose the gritty details better left unsaid. We've moved beyond the "if it bleeds it leads" motto which allowed us to show a twisted wreck of a car on the news to showing bodies in sheets, detailed descriptions of injuries and in depth interviews with grief stricken families. And don't think for a minute, these newsmen give a damn about what they're covering. Maybe I'm a skeptic or maybe I'm just ignorant of how things have always worked. I know it's not entirely recent; I've got a book of Weegee prints. But when did graphic depictions of sex and violence become newsworthy at even the highest levels, beyond the cheesy tabloid? This young man was attacked. Do we need to say how? Does everyone need the details? Why do people in Maine need to know about this party in Texas? What does that sensationalism do besides contribute to the desensitization of sane people and over-stimulation of the rest? Is it just me or does it seem like every abduction, party gone bad, or hazing ritual now involves sexual assault-all of which is given in detail on the 6 p.m. news for junior to hear. Where are these misfits getting the ideas for these attacks? Does the news normalize this violence? I don't know, but it does make it seem common. I would never suggest restricting freedom of speech. But what steps must be taken to stop people from consuming such media filth? I'd like to think that as decent people, we are abhorred by perverse and violent behavior and would do everything to prohibit it's spread. However, when one continues to consume violent and overtly sexual movies, TV shows, video games and support media outlets who profit from proudly detailing events *stranger than fiction* I see no end in sight. It wears us down and chips away at our morality when exposed to this trash day in and day out. What would have made our grandparents blush, is commonplace for most Saturday morning cartoons. The media believes this is what we want and they are ruthless in their hunt for the most private, personal and ultimately painful memories and details of *the story.* What control did David Ritcheson have over the media frenzy around his story? What control does any deceased victim of violence, or their family, have over the flashbulbs and microphones if their tale has been dubbed newsworthy? Yes, the attention may also bring forth prayers, donations, community support but that is not reason the story is being told over the airwaves and survivors are foolish is they believe so. If we truly want relevant news that affect us instead of frighten, educate instead of brainwash, we need to be selective in our media choices and more than likely, we need to limit our exposure. There is good journalism, and good journalists, we just need to find and encourage them. St. Frances de Sales, pray for us!