Mainstream News Needs to Branch Out

The lack of coverage on the bombing in Somalia reveals how U.S. news is focused on getting views rather than serious reporting.

Kenna Beban, Opinion Editor

Deadly bombings in Somalia caused over 600 casualties less than two weeks ago, but, chances are, you didn’t hear much about it.

In the era of the 24-hour news cycle and vicious competition between media sources, news stories involving humanitarian, political or economic crises abroad are often traded for those guaranteed to get the most views and profit. As the most influential media outlets in the world, mainstream U.S. news sites should strive to not only provide their viewers with a thorough look at American news, but also bring awareness to issues foreign nations face. Not only do these stories broaden American’s views of the world, they can also serve as examples, teaching us how to prevent and handle similar situations. But instead, news outlets routinely serve as entertainment, distracting viewers and readers from more meaningful content.

Five U.S. mainstream news sites ‒ CNN, Fox News, NBC News, The New York Times and The Washington Post ‒ each posted six, three, seven, nineteen and twenty-five articles, respectively, on the Somalia bombings in the ten days following the event.

These media giants, which each post hundreds of articles per day, posted on average 12 articles about the Somali terrorist attack. The bombings were the deadliest attack in the country’s history, with a death toll one eighth the size of the 9/11 attacks. So why wasn’t it covered more?

The obvious answer is that people in the U.S. simply don’t care. Very few can confidently say that Somalia is a country, let alone point to it on a map. And why should they? Somalia is far away. The bombing story doesn’t capture attention like other news stories that day, like the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Trump’s latest tweets, which happened in the U.S.

“News is Trump 24/7. That’s all you get,” Diane House, a psychology and world studies teacher at Woodside, said. “There could be an earthquake that killed 4,000 people, and it would not get through his tweet.”

People feel disconnected to things that aren’t close to home, and while this is perfectly natural, the twenty-first century method of reporting news certainly isn’t helping build readers’ empathy. Whether they are online, in paper, or on TV, headlines trend towards sensationalism

“Some of it has to do with what their audiences want,” House said. “We’ve become accustomed to thinking of getting our news as entertainment.”

Perhaps the best example of this was the 2016 election. As most people can attest, the election cycle brought about a wave of reality-TV-like coverage by news outlets, with constant reporting, popping graphics, and nonstop bickering from pundits on both sides. But this didn’t end with the election. Instead, this form of news coverage has persisted and dominated news sources on TV, online, paper, and social media alike.

This type of reporting is good for covering easily-consumed news, like the President’s tweets or a national debate or tragedy ‒ something everyone in the U.S. cares about. However, when it comes to news outside of the country (like the Somali terrorist attack), there is little effort to make viewers care.

With each tragedy that occurs in the U.S., people react less. They’re becoming increasingly desensitized to violence at home, and even more so to violence abroad.

“There’s so much bad news happening around the world, it starts to feel overwhelming,” House said. “I don’t know that people don’t care…but a lot of [bad news], people don’t even know about.”

That’s the problem. How can people in the U.S. care about tragedies, mass killings, and humanitarian crises in other countries if they don’t know about them?

“It’s just not what we get in the news anymore,” House said.

However, the fact that their audiences don’t care shouldn’t be a barrier for news outlets. As key sources of information, mainstream news outlets know that they are the ones who decide what audiences care about. By controlling the kind of content they put into the world, they are controlling American’s views of the world ‒ and this, like anything else, can be manipulated to make money and gain political power.

It can seem hopeless to try to change the way huge companies report news, but, like any other capitalist economy or democratic government, it’s the consumers and voters who ultimately hold the power.

“Us as consumers, if that’s what we want to get, we have to go find it,” House said, referring to more foreign stories not typically covered by mainstream news.

By learning about the problems people in other countries and nations face, Americans can gain some perspective on where they stand in the world and broaden their views beyond the bubble created by the American media.

The intimidating amount of information thrown at us every day can make many people want to turn their heads away, ignoring the complex issues and focusing on what’s easy to understand. But if we want to create a more unified, productive, and empathetic world, those heavy stories are the ones we have to face.