If you were an Instagram user in 2019, you likely remember an early iteration of online outrage: the Amazon rainforest wildfires. As fires tore through the Brazilian Amazon — partly due to regular farming practices and partly due to excessive deforestation — social media users were quick to direct outrage toward the news media.
“Even #SaveSpidermanFromSony has been reported more by the media than #PrayforAmazonia and it’s absolutely shameful,” one fashion influencer captioned a posed outfit post. Instagram and Twitter ran rampant with false and misleading photos of the fires as users scrambled to participate in the activism. The thing is, the American news media was covering this crisis, and they were doing so with much more context than any aesthetically pleasing Canva graphic and Instagram story caption could provide.
In the month of August, The Boston Globe published at least 12 stories about the Amazon forest fires. The New York Times published at least 15. The Washington Post published at least 10. So the question remains, why was the news media being blamed? Are people perhaps becoming too far removed from a true definition of ‘media’?
To put it in a political context, extremists on both sides of the aisle have long been distrustful of mainstream news media. Sen. Bernie Sanders notoriously criticized coverage by the “corporate media” during both of his presidential runs, while former President Donald Trump famously skipped the news media entirely to take his views directly to Twitter. Over the past few years, their distrust has seeped into popular American culture. In 2020, 53% of Americans reported holding the belief that news organizations “don’t care about the people they report on.” The result is that any disaster that isn’t receiving swift action (or even if it is) is quickly blamed on a lack of media attention.
With the death of local news and the surge of social media popularity in the last decade, an increasing number of Americans are getting their news from social media. More than 50% of adults in the United States use social media as a source of news. It’s quick, it’s free, it’s effortless and — most notably — its algorithms let users confine their news to digital echo chambers. But those who rely primarily on social media for news are significantly less knowledgeable on current events and more likely to believe false information, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center report. And when the echo chamber fails to give users the real news of the day, they chastise the media for a lack of coverage.
From the 2019 Amazon fires, to ongoing coverage of Ukraine, to this month’s Ohio train derailment, the news media has faced criticism for ‘hiding’ important stories or ‘not paying attention to’ international and domestic crises, almost all of which major outlets covered extensively. Even the term ‘the media’ now can’t escape its negative connotation, and the collapse of trust between news organizations and the people they exist to inform has brought on an age of misinformation.
Before you blame the media, read the news. Good, sound journalism is still available.While some high quality news outlets are behind paywalls, many are non-profits, allowing anyone to view their reporting without a subscription. Further, Tufts students have access to The New York Times and The Washington Post for free — and additional news outlets can be accessed through Tisch Library.
Despite the occasional blunder, high quality news media remains accessible to those who seek it out, but that quality relies on the continued support of its readers.