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Why adjectives are scaring the truth out of us

Program Head of Media Studies, Jerry Chomyn, has noticed a recent trend in media.  Two, in fact.  “Polarization and interpretation,” he says.  “Not only do you have to be either on this side, or the other, but stories are now filled with innuendo and adjectives.”  We sat down with him to talk about the whos, the dangers, and the potential silver linings of the new phenomenon.

Program Head, Media, Jerry Chomyn.

In Conversation with Jerry Chomyn

What kind of reporting are you referring to when talking about polarization?

Well that’s part of the issue.  I’m noticing a greying of the lines between news, entertainment, and sports journalism.  I think it’s happening to sell the story – but it is a troubling trend.  What we must accept now as newsworthy has really shifted to the lowest common denominator, often times rife with speculation.  And based on the news outlet, you can now almost guess as to which “side” the reporter will take.  Speculation isn’t healthy in news reporting.  It fuels an agenda.  It sounds as though someone is pursuing something that they believe to be a good cause.

The dangers?

The simple danger - media are making it increasingly difficult for people to perceive reality.  To understand the truth.  I believe the public is increasingly becoming disillusioned with mainstream media – traditionally dependable and trustworthy media - as a source for reliable information.  And when traditionally reliable sources fall into the same game as yellow journalists, how do we then receive accurate information?

The use of adjectives, too, creeping into a reporter’s telling of a story is not productive.  Adjectives completely change the meaning of a story.  Adjectives require interpretation of what’s happening.  If I say a person was attacked – that’s one thing.  But if I say a person suffered a vicious, senseless attack – it completely changes the perception.  And media seems to be very intent on using them.  I have big concerns with the loosening, if you will, of journalistic ethics and generally accepted journalism policies. 

Great journalism is essential for democracy, but I would argue that poor journalism is an affront to democracy.

Could there be a silver lining?

If we look back in history, at times when there was a proliferation of yellow journalism, there always seemed to emerge someone that said, We’re not going down that route.  Our mantra will be credibility, fairness and balanced reporting.  The New York Times came along during such a time.  CBS came along with 60 minutes during such a time. 

My fear is that’s getting few and far between.  The news business is expensive to produce.  Newspapers are in a state of turmoil; television is losing its relevance.

For a student of media studies today, it’s important to view this in a larger context, as a potential for great opportunity.  Where are people going to find the truth?

Media Studies 

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