11 March 2015
News Broadcasting as a Medium
For the purpose of this essay a medium can be understood as any apparatus or system which engages the senses and through which information, emotion, or sentiment can be developed or transferred. News broadcasting, when analyzed as a medium, can be described as a system that engages audio and visual senses and which transfers information and often emotions and sentiments. For example, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) has been airing broadcasts relating to a recent and ongoing incident involving the crash of a military helicopter carrying eleven service members of the United States military. As this event occurred overnight NBC broadcasted this for the first time the morning after the incident and again on its nightly news broadcast. Additionally throughout the day updated information and other related videos have been added to the U.S. News section of their website archiving the situation for interested parties to access at any time present or future. This article is both informative and emotional. It contains information on similar incidents from the past, but also emphasizes the tragic nature by stating the many political figures, like Barack Obama, have offered sympathies to the families and colleagues of these service members. These aspects of this piece highlight perfectly the dimensions of news broadcasting as a medium.
News broadcasts are unique when compared to other methods of retrieving information regarding current events in that they appeal to more than one of the basic senses humans possess. A newspaper, for example, may cover many of the same topics as a news broadcast but it only stimulates a person’s sense of sight. The radio, another potential source of receiving some of the same information, only engages one’s sense of hearing. Only a news broadcast has the capability of allowing one to hear a reporter speak on an incident at the same time images can be seen. Like newspapers and radios a news broadcast covers a broad variety of subject matters, which include topics of interest such as criminal activities, current events, locally, nationally, and internationally, the goings on with prominent figures (celebrities or government officials), the weather, and even human interest stories. Another unique aspect of a news broadcast is the ability for users to gain access to updates instantly throughout the day without needing to be constantly tuned in. Newspapers are published once daily and articles are locked in by a deadline occurring before printing. Any updates after the deadline won’t be shared until the next edition of the paper. A radio talk show is fleeting. If one isn’t tuned in at the time an update is given it could be hours before the topic is approached again, if it comes around again at all. As with NBC’s piece cited above the story was updated by two different authors and other content, such as photographs of helicopter shrapnel littering a Florida beach, was also included as the day progressed and information was released.
So is anything missing from NBC’s story? For now, the names of the eleven servicemen are not included in the story. In fact the only information given about any of these men is that seven of them are Marines and four are Army. Many other details are known to the public. Where? The Florida panhandle, as confirmed by interviews of locals given to the Associated Press. When? March 10th, 2015 during an overnight training exercise. Why? Potentially because of complications from bad weather. Who? Essentially, unknown. So why has the media withheld this information from the public? Simply, because the media does not as of yet have this information. What is the purpose of evaluating the information of significant? It relates to the ethical issues involved with news broadcasting, very similar to those associated with journalists. Military personnel are viewed by society as heroic figures, modern day white knights. Thus, this story is as much a human interest piece as it is national news. If the media had the names of these eleven men they could accomplish humanizing the story because they would have access to new information about the people involved in addition to the information about the helicopter, the weather, and the search efforts. “Eleven men” does not paint a picture as well as individual biographies on the eleven men. This fact, that humans are curious and have long been enraptured by stories of tragedy, creates the need for ethical discussions in relation to the content of news broadcasts. Essentially, how much information is too much information, what information is not news, but actually personal or private, and how do these professionals stay within acceptable ethical boundaries.
In an article about suicide and the media Stephen J.A. Ward writes, “Minimize harm is the proper principle, not ‘do not harm.’” This is contradictory to society’s perception of a journalist’s responsibility to the victims they encounter. Society perceives reporters as vultures vying for a story and exploiting and harassing grieving families. When asked, society believes that, like a doctor, a reporter should do no harm to those they are using as sources or portraying the public. Why then does Ward, a prominent figure in North American journalistic ethics, argue for an approach that instead says to minimize harm? “They [suicides] challenge journalists to explore the economic and social factors that may help to induce suicidal behavior” Ward argues that suicide is a social issue and thus it is news worthy and it is appropriate to explore in the public sphere. He argues that uncomfortable situations are meaningful and should be discussed in this manner as a manner of alleviating such conceptions. Ward cites Immanuel Kant, a philosopher from the late 1700’s, when defining ethics as “do not treat others only as a means to an end.” Here, Ward acknowledges that interviewees and other subjects of reporters are a means to an end. They are a means of doing their job which is a service we as a society find valuable. However, this is not the only function of the subjects. Respect, Ward claims, is a vital aspect of journalistic ethics. If the subject is respected, compassion has been given, and their interests not harmed then exploitation has not occurred. This includes reporting only factual information, following proper guidelines for interviewing trauma victims (for example, guidelines from the Dart Center for journalism and trauma), and avoiding sensationalism. These principles coincide with those of Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel in their book, The Elements of Journalism.
The Elements of Journalism outlines “ten elements common to good journalism” These include being truthful, following a process of verification, and engaging a sense of personal ethics. However this list also expands on the subject in a new direction. Highlighted above is the media portrayed negatively. However, if the service provided had no only negative contributions it would no longer be provided. Kovach and Rosentiel consider the positive aspects of journalist investigation. Reporters often investigate public and government officials, locally and nationally. Considering the constant presence of the media in the lives of these public officials helps contribute to society’s confidence in some amount of government transparency. Kovach and Rosentiel claim that the journalist has a unique ability to watch dog those with power and has with that power comes the responsibility of representing all walks of life. For example, not ignoring the injustices of the underprivileged. With this ability comes the added challenge of reporting and expressing while also allowing the civilians engaging in the report to evaluate and conclude on their own terms. This is ultimately the purpose of news broadcasting as a medium.
 Vinograd, C., & Miklaszewski, J. (2015, March 11). Military Helicopter Crashes in Florida; Eleven Feared Dead. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
 Ward, S. (2009, January 1). Covering Suicide:Do Journalists Exploit Tragedy. Retrieved March 9, 2015.
 Kovach, B. & Rosentiel, T. “The Elements of Journalism”. 3rd Edition. 2014.