Compassion Fatigue: Are News Reporters to Blame?

News media is more accessible in our times than ever before; It’s available on our laptops, television sets, cellphones, and even certain watches. Consequently, this accessibility allows for instant news coverage from all over the world. With the combination of 24 hour news and the internet, breaking news travels understatedly quick. Society as a whole can readily hear of natural disasters and catastrophes within seconds and without any limit to their immediate location. In fact, breaking news as such, is what is mainly covered. This is mostly rooted at what news media journalists perceive as newsworthy and how they choose to report it. For this reason, it isn’t very often that media covers feel-good, inspirational stories. These choices in reporting greatly affect society and the news audience as a whole. By intentionally labeling news as “breaking news,” soley when associated with negative implications, they feed and produce compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue as described as by Professors Mcintyre and Sobel, “occurs when audiences become so accustomed to seeing conflict and suffering in various forms of media, that they stop noticing that it is occuring.” ( Mcintyre & Sobel, p. 41, 2017) However, despite this belief, many argue that news audiences actually would rather see, so to say, negative, news be reported then positive. Stuart Soroka, professor at the University of Michigan, reports, “negative network news content, in comparison with positive news content, tends to increase both arousal and attentiveness. In contrast, positive news content has an imperceptible impact on the physiological measures we focus on. Indeed, physiologically speaking, a positive news story is not very different from the gray screen we show participants between news stories…News content is predominantly negative because humans tend to be more attentive to negative information.”(Soroka, 2015) In other words, many can argue that compassion fatigue isn’t only a result of journalists reporting choices, but society’s nature to only really respond to negative news. For this reason, it’s easy to understand why news media is so negative and why although compassion fatigue is a consequential risk, it remains as the center point of news media. Despite society’s contribution, the heavier role however,  is played by news media reporters and agencies as audiences are mostly under their imposition as news outlets. The way news reporters decide to give information and what is considered newsworthy is primarily related to compassion fatigue, as newsworthiness and negative news tends to be inherently intertwined in today’s society. 

Media, Culture, and Morality 

In the book Media, Culture, and Morality, the author, Keith Tester develops several arguments about the connection between media and morality. He goes into depth particularly about the anaesthetic effect of media. Tester argues mainly in regard of how constant portrayal of  foreign environmental, health, and economic disasters have created a society that can longer acknowledge the seriousness each situation entails (Tester, p.101, 2015 ). In fact, he mentions that despite our consciousness of these issues, given their continuing relevance, we have lost the ability to react, therefore validating his argument of a “anesthetized” society (Tester, p.101, 2015). Tester writes, “What I’m trying to say is that it is possible to speculate that as we become ever more aware of famines in various parts of the world, as we turn on the television and are forced to confront once again the horror of starvation, we actually become desensitized to the enormity of it all.” Perhaps, considering our current technology, this could be revised to “as we scroll through our social media or glance at news article headlines”(p.101). However, whatever medium is used, the prominence of these headliners is still in high regard, and even more in today’s technology rooted society. He continues mentioning how this “desensitization” or in other words, compassion fatigue is deeply connected to the “institutionalized operation of media”(p.103).  Tester writes, “..even though the media, and especially television, could reasonably be assumed to be some of the major and most influential channels for the making of moral solidarity between ourselves and others, the very forms of organization and the reception of the media meant that their media could never, in fact, have that profoundly moral effect ” (p. 107). Part of the reason the media never reaches this “profound morality” is based solely on the audiences now built ability to remain stagnant and fatigued emotionally. In other words, the desire to act and make change where highlighted news occurs is predominantly eliminated. He follows by saying, “Consequently, it was hinted that it is quite likely that the media do not serve as so to sensitize us to moral problems. Quite the contrary; the media would rather tend to have an anaesthetic effect”(p. 107). Thus, the media’s approach in reporting negative news defeats its intent to enact change, as they merely create a desensitized society with no emotional or moral ties to the disasters that face the world. 

“From Disaster to Disaster”

Jacob Akol author of, “Foreign News, What Foreign News?” continues the argument made previously as he concurs that media, in fact, aims to create more of a shock factor then to report accurate “crisis coverage” (Akol, para. 4, 2002 ) Doing so, media as mentioned by Tester, is unable to motivate or encourage change and in depth acknowledgement of global issues. Akol also argues:

“Journalists in the field have to run from disaster to disaster, searching for worse and worse situations, no matter how risky it may be. Expectations from desk editors force reporters to paint a worse picture than the situation actually is. So, more and more journalists are getting themselves shot at the war front while in pursuit of horror stories and shocking pictures. 

Hollywood’s influence has seen to it that all war reports follow the “good and bad guys” formula. Reports of disease outbreaks must “appear to be out of a Stephen King horror movie,” — like “flesh-eating bacteria, consumes your brain like mad cow disease, or turns your insides to bloody slush like Ebola” — to be worth mentioning in print or on air.” (para. 5)  Akol takes on the news reporters as he critiques their reporting methods. Many wonder why society is no longer willing to react, but as made obvious by Akol, why would a society react to reports meant merely to compete against each other? News reporting is now merely an effort to top the last global issue with their opinion of the worst one, instead of demanding change and action form news audiences, or even just simply reporting the actual and accurate story. This argument is supported by Tom Phillips as he writes in the Contemporary Review saying, “Compassion fatigue is media induced. Modern news reporting: has fallen into a mt and it is the unfailing predictability of the coverage given to foreign crises and catastrophes – rather than the nature of the events themselves – which encourages the public to turn the page or change the channel. Compassion fatigue is not, in other words, ‘an unavoidable consequence of covering the news. It is, however, an unavoidable consequence of the way the news is now covered” (Phillips, para. 7, 1999). Consequently, failure in accurate and appropriate news coverage of global crisis and social issues has created and constituted what now is labeled as compassion fatigue. 

Conclusion

Compassion fatigue is directly related to poor reporting choices. If news media focused more on the content of these global crises instead of sensationalizing or merely reporting with the intent of topping their last story, compassion fatigue wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if reporters wrote with the purpose to inform, there would be a change in society’s attitude towards these issues or at the least, a better more in depth understanding of what these issues truly entailed. Compassion fatigue and desensitization are not a lost cause however, if society demands for better news coverage, there will be an active and positive change in news media audiences attitudes and actions, limiting the detrimental effects of compassion fatigue.

References

Akol, J. (n.d.). Foreign news, what foreign news?doi: http://web.b.ebscohost.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=6&sid=c6392859-0b30-49e0-afbe-abce1cbf9f56@pdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=5859438&db=asn

Mcintyre, K., & Sobel, M. (2017). Motivating news audiences: Shock them or provide them with solutions? Communication & Society, 30(1), 39–56.

Phillips, T. (n.d.). Compassion Fatigue and the Media Part One. Retrieved from https://www.lehigh.edu/~jl0d/J246-06/Compassion Fatigue.htm.

Soraka, S. (2015, May 24). Why do we pay more attention to negative news than to positive news? Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/why-is-there-no-good-news/.

Tester, K. (n.d.). Media, Culture, and Morality. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=sa9A9h3ZicAC&pg=PA107&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepa

NCMO?

Media has become increasingly implemented into our daily lives, however, is there a point in which it crosses the line? For some, this implementation is merely seen as a form of technological progression and our adaptation to advancement. To others it has crossed many boundaries, particularly in the way we meet people–dating wise. As I moved across states, I was completely in shock at the way dating is done here in Utah. As I met my roommates, I was informed about several dating apps, the most popular one being Mutual. As I began to explore these options I was a little iffy. I was reluctant in pursuing these outlets as a means to meet people just because I always thought that people simply met each other in classes or outside, not behind the screens on their phones. However, despite my hesitation I downloaded the app and was now a registered Mutual account user. At first it seemed pretty intriguing, for some reason it reminded me a lot of online shopping. It sounds horrible, but there was something about just swiping meanlessly through different accounts. I didn’t owe anything to these people and in a way it kind of took the pressure off meeting someone for the first time. In other words, you could perfectly craft yourself in the way you wanted to. Similar in the way people build other social media accounts–you post your best pictures and only show the alluring and prospective aspects of yourself. I was guilty of this myself. I uploaded the pictures that showed off my best features, I changed my bio several times, trying my best to speak to a certain audience(my type)in the most unique way possible, and often excluded the parts of me that didn’t seem the most enticing. However, as I begin matching with people, and some conversations begun to start, it was then when I was reminded why Mutual or dating apps in general are not for me.

As my quest to find a prospective and decent man to date in the city of Provo began, I was shocked at how direct and at times inappropriate these men were. This app wasn’t romantic and completely bashed on my 16 Candles, Say Anything type romance I wanted. These men started conversations by saying things like “NCMO,” which means “Non-Committal Make-out” or by heavily suggesting a date at the infamous “Squaw Peak.” I was horrified. I wanted to be asked on a real date, maybe get to know someone before being asked to “make-out.” Was that too much to ask for? Also, when did dating become so superficial? I believe that the application of media in our dating and courtship lives has created a dating atmosphere in which all things non-committal and superficial are the norm. Instead of speaking to the cute boy in our communications class, we hope to find him on Mutual. Or, instead of asking how a girls day went through these said apps, we send a message saying, “You up?” at the dark depths of the night, particularly after 11. 

Above, you see one of the most recurring messages I’ve received on this app. “NCMO?” As I look back at this message I fear for the things my children or grandchildren will have to go through as media begins to flourish and is implemented in every aspect of our life. My offspring will never know what it’s like to run into someone at the grocery store and bond over their shared love of strawberry Pop Tarts or begin a conversation as they both reach for the last litter bottle of Coca-Cola. This change in dating culture is severely disappointing and ultimately unfulfilling. The rise in technology has definitely crushed my romantic dreams. However, I will remain hopeful for a clean cut, gentlemen who will sweep me off my feet and will avoid all these Utah non-committal boys so desperate for makeout session at Squaw Peak.

Spiritual vs Media Literacy


As children, we are taught to adhere to the promptings of the Spirit. In primary, the truth of the trinity–God, Our Savior, and the Holy Ghost is ingrained in our minds, for good reason too. We sing the hymn The Spirit of God saying, “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning! The latter-day glory begins to come forth; The visions and blessings of old are returning, And angels are coming to visit the earth.” We testify on testimony and fast Sunday of the truths received by the Spirit of God. Our connection and relationship with the Spirit is a true testament of our relationship with God, as it is His Spirit. In Moroni 10:5 we read,” And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” In our days, as technological advancements are praised and implemented into our society, it becomes seemingly more difficult to filter out the voices of the world. For this reason, just as media literacy is important in our academic setting, spiritual literacy is just as or as in the eyes of our Heavenly Father, more important. In Chapter 35 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, this idea is qualified and expanded on further.

Media literacy is defined as the “ ability to encode and decode the symbols transmitted via media and the ability to synthesize, analyze and produce mediated messages,”as seen by The National Association For Media Literacy Education. With media everywhere, ranging from literature to Youtube videos, it is essential as a society that we develop skills in which we are able to decipher the true and real message of things. From the moment we awake, we are exposed to media, whether welcomed or not. It can be today’s news notifying you of global natural disasters or a simple text from a loved one. Our ability to encode and decode these messages greatly influences our opinion on certain political, cultural, economic, and societal topics. For this reason, it’s important to always question sources, media grammar, and framing techniques. Although media literacy is essential in surviving mortal life, spiritual literacy, the ability to understand the spirits individual message and act upon promptings delivered will ultimately lead to all truth and understanding. You may be wondering, if media literacy is the action of seeking out truth and questioning sources, then aren’t spiritual and media literacy the same. The answer is no. Despite media literacy being a defining factor in understanding the world around us, spiritual literacy is the defining factor in understanding everything the Lord offers us. For this reason, being spiritually literate allows us to see past falsehoods sometimes deliberately hidden in media.  Elder Oaks elaborates on this issue saying, “The news media are particularly susceptible to conveying erroneous information about facts, including historical developments that are based on what I have called scientific uncertainties…” Consequently, the need for the constant companionship of the spirit is fundamental in identifying falsehoods and misconceptions in our daily life, especially in regard to the gospel. However, this does not mean that media literacy and education are not important. 

When analyzing  Chapter 35 of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, we learn that “We are to seek diligently for truth and strive to learn and improve each day.” We have been commanded to learn from the best books, to educate ourselves, and inform ourselves of topics of the past, present, and future. Part of this involves simply being literate, spiritually and media wise. The two really do go hand in hand, but it is important to emphasize once again, spiritual literacy when inspired by the Holy Ghost will always be truth. Joseph F. Smith also concludes that all truth is found in the Gospel. He also emphasizes, “The religion of the Latter-day Saints is not hostile to any truth, nor to scientific search for truth. “That which is demonstrated, we accept with joy,” said the First Presidency in their Christmas greeting to the Saints, “but vain philosophy, human theory and mere speculations of men we do not accept, nor do we adopt anything contrary to divine revelation or to good common sense, but everything that tends to right conduct, that harmonizes with sound morality and increases faith in Deity, finds favor with us, no matter where it may be found.”

 We are a church of truth, a church that belongs to the wisest, all knowing. We know that all truth comes from God, and so “truth declared by living prophets and teachers” will bring us to a greater understanding of God and his many truths. However, in the quest for truth we must hold fast to the words of President Kimball, many … evil influences come right into the home—through television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and other forms of literature.” We can never let our guard down in today’s society. Our journey of truth when backed on the teaching of the gospel and inspiration of the Spirit will always bring us closer to God, the keeper of all truth.

To close, Don L. Searle writes, “We share the same gospel, unity, love—everything.” While there may be differences of color, “when the Saints meet, these are wiped off. The Spirit is the same. The Spirit makes us one.” The spirit will always declare, demand, and deliver truth, regardless of societal expectations. This truth is what makes spiritual literacy so prevalent. I advise all to seek out knowledge through the inspiration of the Spirit as it will always be concrete. 

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