Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rape, Murder and Mayhem

This past week, I was walking through Crossings Park and encountered a friend-walker and her small dog, Heidi.  Since the passing of Mick the Wonder Dog, I relish these encounters to socialize with dog and dog owner.  On this occasion my friend expressed having a rough start to her day and in the mix of the conversation she expressed a note of distress regarding the savagery of the latest terrorist incident.  This lead to my expression to her that what I find most disturbing is the inability to block (or at least filter) unwanted news.  It seems like much like the weather, “news” is pushed on you whether you want it or not.  I noticed in the most recent iOS for the iPad / iPhone, news feeds are being pushed as the default.  It also seems that network stations will cut into scheduled programming more often than in the past.  I recall a recent episode of “Storm Tracker Weather” that went on for about an hour or so which was neither needed nor welcome – I could easily look from my window to see that a storm was in progress and if folks are able to watch TV chances are they are sheltered from the storm… so could you please return us to Jeopardy?

While the weather cut-ins are aggravating, I find the “terror” cut ins to be self-serving (see also my quip on Yellow Journalism) to the stations for ratings and furthermore maximize the intended impact of the terrorists.  In short, the terrorists don’t even have to count on you to find about their misdeeds on the internet because they have our so-called journalists operating as propaganda agents for them.   I think one of the biggest deterrents to terrorism is to reduce the amount of free publicity that is given to it.  I am not insinuating that ignorance is entirely bliss when it comes to unwelcome news, but I would like the ability to choose what I ingest when it comes to bad news.  I don’t necessarily need or want to hear the blow by blow horror of the many terrible things people do to others and neither do I need the agents of the press to ratchet up the drama by contemplating and suggesting the many ways that it could happen here.

Many years ago, a social worker colleague had expressed to me her choice of vocation within the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) whereby she explained her personal need not to be in an area that was heavy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder due to her concern of acquiring a secondary affliction of PTSD.  My colleague was very aware of her mental health and astute enough to know that too many horrific stories of war would negatively impact her mental well-being. Secondary PTSD or secondary trauma is a very real condition whereby the trauma of the primary who directly experienced the trauma can be imprinted to a degree on others.  These secondary individuals may be first responders, family members or care givers who may observe the aftermath of a horrific event or be provided vivid details through close familiar contact or counseling.  Compassion is critical for first responders, family members and care givers; it is also important that the mental health of these individuals be preserved sufficiently to enable them to be effective in their role and so that they have a satisfactory daily life.

As journalism and the news attempts to become more “up close and personal” secondary trauma arises as a concern for a larger viewing public.  I am concerned about the prevalence and impact of sensationalized and graphic news stories.  It is for that reason that I suggest these reforms:

1.  All operating systems and apps should be programmed based on an “opt in” versus an “opt out” logic for news (and weather).  Users should not have to hunt for settings to turn things off.  If they want it, they will look for it and they can choose to turn it on or not.

2.  Cut ins to regularly scheduled programming should be eliminated.  If you think a tornado is coming my way, by all means scroll a bar at the bottom of the screen and then let me decide whether to continue watching Jeopardy or head to the basement.  And I definitely don’t want to be traumatized by sensationalized news breaking in to tell me of the latest mass shooting.

3.  All news stories should be tagged for the genre – for example “Accidental Trauma” for car crashes, train wrecks, etc., perhaps “Rape, Murder and Mayhem” for human driven trauma such as shootings, stabbings, beheadings, bombing, etc., then “Non-violent human interest” for neighborhood events, educational and other feel good news stories.

4.  Daily news shows should be segmented by genre.  This is done for sports and the weather so why can’t it be extended to the other stories?  Further, I would strongly encourage the networks to place tight constraints on the time allocation for each genre.   In my local news I generally see about 3 - one or two minute segments on the weather and maybe four minutes or so on sports so why not put a time limit on the number of violent stories?  A time limit would curtail the abusive sensationalism that has become a value added for the terrorists. Please, implement a Rape, Murder and Mayhem time limited news segment so that I know how long it will be and can choose to opt out.

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