Journalism or Commercialism? Flight MH 370

Michelle S. Lee ’16

Associate Editor | Managing Editor

As of this week, it has been one full month since the disappearance of Flight MH370 on March 8. Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it has because normally incidents of such disasters, no matter how distressing or unprecedented, usually do not catch the eyes of news channels for longer than two weeks. But CNN (amongst other major news networks) has steered the story to a true place of no return, oddly deconstructing the tragedy by scouring the Indian Ocean for every little detail.

Let me backtrack a step. I know not all news networks are still reporting the disappearance, nevermind at the rate which CNN seems to have mastered. But as a population increasingly adapted to visual stimulation and broadcasted as opposed to written material, it is not unreasonable to assume news-readers may gravitate toward this network in particular. But with such increased mobility for interviews, live feeds and graphic explanations comes the threat of bias to adapt stories most inclined to complement such visual representation.

If you’ve flipped to the cable news network channel at any time of day for this past month, or if you’ve even caught Jon Stewart’s latest impression of the coverage, you are well aware of the extent to which this news network has attempted to find the “leading clue,” or some variant of the phrase, to the mystery of the plane crash. It has held a four-week long field day with it running through every conceivable conspiracy theory, from possible terrorist action with the stolen passports, to shady government secrecy on the content of the pilot’s last recorded words, none of which have merited any palpable results.

In the midst of an international fight for an eastern European country and other domestic tragedies and scandals (all of which have been nonchalantly pushed to the back burner) the news angle on Flight 370 has more or less felt like the eerie conclusion of a Hollywood film. And this news network, emblematic of televised American news, can get away with such extensive coverage because the crash was a basic concept that can be explored a million times over, cloaked in a field of unknown content. Unlike the situation in Ukraine, which requires a comprehensive summary – nevermind a hook – to attract the attention of an average person, the mystery of the plane inherently garnered an indispensible public interest that needed no preclude or analysis.

Yet it seems that the public is slowly losing interest in a crisis that has still yet to come to any tangible conclusion. And furthermore, hopefully we read from a variety of news sources and articles to realize that a lot has actually been happening, besides Flight MH 370, over the past four weeks. At the very least, my “trending” sidebar on Facebook seems to reflect this. But speculative and largely redundant articles about the plane, its disappearance, and every plausibility never cease to make headline after headline.

Has historical significance been compromised for convenience and increased viewership? CNN rose to legitimacy through its initial live coverage of the Gulf War and 20 years later it seems to be pushing away such political turmoil from its main stories.  While it is a humanitarian effort to profile each one of the victims and their purpose on this flight, this is not a nuclear episode for the public. It is a private loss and grievances should be shared as necessary, and not depersonalized through shiny lenses of professional photography. To aggrandize the disappearance of this plane in such painstaking detail (with often dead-end leads) can not only be perceived as a transparent attempt at increasing audience ratings, but also an unhealthy imbalance of sensationalism versus journalistic integrity.

Doubtless it is an extremely difficult job of distributing representation of current events in a manner that is both professionally accurate and profitable. The plane’s disappearance was both unprecedented and inherently tragic and by means deserved to be reported. Still, simply warranting media attention is not valid enough of a reason to overshadow other major domestic and international current events. Should we find genuine clues that verifiably bring us a step toward unraveling the mystery of Flight MH 370, I and many others will be ecstatic to read all about it – until then I hope that commercial success does not compromise credibility.


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