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My aunt, like countless others, hates watching television in the morning. “All that’s on,” she says, “is the news and morning talk shows, both of which have little positive to say and really put me in an awful mood for the day ahead.”

Can we blame her?

We have heard time and time again that the media is not just a passive form of entertainment. What we watch, read, and consume through screens and over airways has a direct effect on the way the think, act, and process our surrounding world, as well as, for my aunt and others, our mood and well-being. This effect is demonstrated in full-force when talking about the recent spree of gun violence in the past few months and years. It seems as though there is a constant influx of disheartening and demoralizing news—a gunman on the loose, children killed, a domestic dispute with a tragic ending. It’s as though the bad days have come to outnumber the good, and we find ourselves lucky when a day goes by with no such violence.

Although it may seem as though our society is slipping into a violent abyss, the U.S. is statistically as safe as it has been in the past twenty years. While gun violence is by no means under control (nor is this a piece about the gun control debate), there is another force that is clouding our days with such frightening news: the media.

Every screen we turn on shouts at us that violence is all around, pleads with us to recognize viciousness. How much is too much, though, when it comes to news coverage of violence? Considering gun-related crime rates haven’t increased but our media coverage of those crimes has, should we be worried that we are becoming a society too focused on what is going wrong?

The news putting us in a bad mood may be for good reason. Sensationalized media stories capture the public’s attention and are cultural markers upon which we can convene, discuss, and mitigate our own feelings, thoughts, and ideas. Through media coverage of events related to gun violence, we can remain citizens informed of what is going on in our country and our world, so that we can pursue the knowledge we need to fix it.

Conversely, the news also may be worsening our well-being. Media outlets often over-sensationalize violence stories, urging us to pay attention to the gruesome details even before they have the correct facts or information, leading to issues of mistrust and fear.

While some argue that there is not enough coverage of gun violence in the media, and others have appeased media consumers by scaling back in the wake of too much violence, the question remains, then, is sensationalized violence a necessary component of a modern, media-based society? Is it our duty to consume such news or deplorable that it is even broadcast in such a fashion? Can we or should we choose to tune out?

– Lauren Witte, A14


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