Friday, February 28, 2014

A Dark and Stormy Night

What has happened to the news media? When I was in college and writing stories for my college newspaper, we followed the who what and where format. We described things in factual terms.

News in general was like that, too. Just the facts without all kinds of fancy adjectives.

But, all of that has changed. The words used to describe things are no longer just factual. The more emotionally charged the better. Didn’t that used to belong to the tabloids only?

So now a 3 alarm fire is called a raging inferno. A convenience store being held up is described as a daring robbery. You might say that it makes the news sound more interesting. How about it could change your perception of what actually happened.

There is a show I like on the National Geographic channel called Brain Games. It is all about - well, games our brains play with us. It’s also very interactive show. In the latest episode, they took a group of people to a movie set and told them they were going to watch a taping. In the midst of it, there was an unexpected event. A red car drove onto the set and hit a parked blue car.

As an experiment, they questioned two groups of people about the incident asking them how fast they thought the red car was going. However, they didn’t use the same words with both groups. With one, they asked how fast was the red car going when it smashed into the blue car. The other group was asked how fast the red car was going when it bumped the blue car. Now, both groups saw the same incident, but it turned out their perceptions were very different.

When they used the word smashed to describe the impact, the people all said they thought the red car was going 40 to 50 miles an hour. However, when they used bumped to describe the impact, the people thought the red car was traveling between 15 and 20 miles an hour.

I repeat, both groups saw the exact same thing, but thanks to the words used, what they saw was altered.

I am trying not to let that happen as I sit here waiting for a storm to come. I have gotten emails and calls from people asking if I’m worried about it because they have heard dire descriptions of the coming storm on national TV shows and the Internet. The truth is, I don’t know whether to be worried or not.

It has been described as more rain in one day than we’ve had in a year. That sounds like the end of the world, doesn’t it. Well, we’ve had only a few inches of rain over the past year. Then I’ve heard this coming storm referred to as the worst we’ve had in three years. But it’s three years when we haven’t had any bad storms. The news people seem to be big on making everything historic.

Should I be cranking up the ark? How bad will it really be? All I can do is hope that once again they are guilty of hyperbole.


Planner said...

Interesting observations! I think there's nothing to worry about unless you live on a hillside that is vulnerable to mudslides. Then, precautions are in order. Apparently, the people writing these doom-and-gloom weather reports have not heard the refrain of the song "It Never Rains in Southern California."

Think of it as good writing weather!

Gabby said...

Well done! You make such valid points... now if only MSM would listen!

Betty Hechtman said...

Planner, it has turned out to be a good day to hover over my computer.

Betty Hechtman said...

Gabby, when the local news station starts quoting the Enquirer you know you're in trouble.

Monica Ferris said...

When I read about the staged accident, I thought they were going to ask one group, "How fast was the red car going?" and the other group, "How fast was the blue car going?" Because people get descriptions wrong, too!

I agree newscasters like to build up a story to make it earth-shattering - which is wrong on many levels.

Betty Hechtman said...

Monica, in another show they staged a pick pocket thing with a bunch of people and even when I watched the show more than once, it was hard to get it straight who the pick pocket was.

I have learned a lot about perception from watching the show.

Gabby said...

I believe The Enquirer was the newspaper of record for the Lewinski scandal.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I was a journalism major in undergraduate school, Betty, and at the time we were taught like you to report only the facts and try not to interpret them. Now it seems that we all have to do our best to interpret what's real in the news and what's exaggerated. It seems as if there's a bit of fiction included with those facts today.

Betty Hechtman said...

Linda, the whole concept of journalism seems to have changed. News stories read like feature stories now.

Betty Hechtman said...

Interesting, Gabby. I didn't know that.