The New(s) Trend

News is a popularity contest, and everyone suffers because of it.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Faith Choi

China has been accused of committing genocide against Uyghurs for years. People are kept against their will in camps, families are separated, cultural traditions are attempted to be broken, and there is forced sterilization to suppress the Uyghur population. This is a big issue, and yet there is less and less reporting on it. Despite its importance, it isn’t considered a top story. What is considered a top story, or breaking news, is an opinion based on set categories called news drivers. News drivers are categories used to decide what makes headlines, including importance, prominence, human interest, conflict, change, proximity, timeliness, magnitude, relevance, and unusualness. Though they attempt to be nuanced, they are merely popularity requirements. 

The prominence of news drivers explicitly reflects how fame is valued in reporting. In many cases, “prominent” stories can be inconsequential. Taylor Swift attending football games was considered big news, even bigger than the football game itself. It involved a famous person and therefore covered the prominence portion, but this emphasis on fame and wealth in popular news stories can be harmful. This was demonstrated by how popular the story of the lost submersible called the Titan holding a few wealthy people got much more attention than the hundreds of deaths after a ship holding migrants capsized. The goal of the expedition was to explore the remains of the Titanic, but it led to the deaths of the pilot and four passengers. The Adriana was carrying about 750 migrants during the same time as the Titan expedition. Authorities were alerted of trouble with and on the boat, and Greek authorities responded by sending food, water, and diesel. Eventually, the boat relayed mayday signals, but the Greek coast guard didn’t respond until it was too late. In terms of magnitude, the news about hundreds of dead migrants would be more important because the numbers are greater, but prominence is generally focused on more than magnitude, leading to the deaths of wealthy people receiving more attention. 

News is important for many reasons, from providing information to the general public to encouraging governments and people to take action. In the case of the Titan and the Adriana, the amount of news coverage each received reflected the actions that were taken. Before its implosion, the news of the missing submersible sparked search and rescue expeditions from multiple organizations and countries. The migrant boat, on the other hand, received attention from the Greek coast guard too late, despite the problems the boat had been having since the day prior. The U.S. government spent over $1 million on search and rescue for the Titan, the missing submersible. Would this much money have been used if there weren’t so much media attention attached to the missing submersible? And would this much money be used if the victims weren’t wealthy? 

Popular news can also take attention away from other events. The war between Israel and Hamas is an important issue, but so are plenty of other issues that have received much less attention. The Syrian war has been going on for more than a decade, millions of Congolese have been displaced, and the South Sudan refugee crisis is the largest refugee crisis in Africa. Despite these numbers, awareness of the issues in seemingly unaffected countries is limited. 

Deciding top news stories is a popularity contest, and it leads to consumers having limited knowledge of current events. There are multiple points of view on what should guide published stories. If more popular, interactive stories are published, there is a chance that people will pay more attention to the news as they will find it more interesting. This is good from a business perspective, and news publications need to thrive economically to continue to publish articles. On the other hand, broader news coverage is beneficial to the public; however, it may also lead to less attention from the general public. 

Interest in certain news stories eventually fizzles out. As things become less shiny and new, the intrigue wanes. Most issues don’t go away despite the declining attention they receive from the media. Climate change is the biggest issue of our time, affecting everybody, and needs to be addressed, but it is also seen as old news. People who acknowledge it have been aware of it for years, so it isn’t as attractive. Regardless of the importance, it just isn’t popular. 

While the popular news receives attention, the lesser-known news hides in the shadows, leading to disproportionate access to information. This imbalance of news means that without actively trying to combat it, people will receive limited information and perspectives, leading to ignorance about many issues. This ignorance can lead to misinformation and further harm. News outlets should be about the news first and business second. This means focusing less on publicity and more on complete, unbiased content. Comprehensive news coverage is vital and should be treated as such by consumers and journalists alike.