The Loud Modern News Industry

I was sitting at a table in my harshly lighted public high school library with my head propped up over a calculus textbook. I was deeply focused and the room was completely quiet. Or so I thought. Reading in silence, trying to focus, wasn’t so hard to achieve that day since I had left my hearing aids sitting at home on my desk as I rushed out the door in the morning. I was usually late, but never this late. So, as I was preoccupied reading about antiderivatives and limits, I didn’t hear my friend ask me a question. Honestly, I forgot she was there, sitting right next to me. When I felt a tap on my shoulder, the word reluctantly came out.

What?

This word must be one of the most common ones in my vocabulary. Sometimes, it starts with that feeling of confliction; do I dare ask the question or do I march on pretending I know what words just came out of her mouth? Do I ask “what?” for what feels like the hundredth time that day? And other times, times like that day in the library, it comes out before I have time to think about it.

Occasionally, people respond with “nevermind,” acting like repeating themselves is too much of an inconvenience. So, sometimes I don’t feel like asking them to. But I always do, no matter how exhausting it becomes… 

My father is a journalist. Naturally, I grew up being told to ask questions. If I could describe my father in one line, it would be, “google it.” When he cannot answer a question, there is nothing else on his mind until he can. As my father’s daughter, I ask questions all the time, and I like finding answers, just like he does. I despise the all-too familiar feeling of having missed something as a result of my hearing loss more than I despise having to ask the question: what?. So, the word usually comes out, reluctantly. 

Would it be easier if I didn’t have to ask? Would it be easier if everything was just louder? Yes. It would be. It would be for all of us. We have a way of refusing to ask questions, of believing what we are told, and of filling in the blanks when something isn’t clear. I do this all the time, I admit. I do it in everyday conversations when I can’t read someone’s lips and I miss the keys words that give their sentences meaning. And almost all of us do it every time we look at our news feed.

My father’s profession, journalism, wasn’t always all about buzzfeed and facebook articles with catchy slogans or scandalous photos. When I was old enough to use Facebook, my father told me how it was when he was a kid, and I remember listening because the look on his face said, “this is important; this is serious.” Back then, the news networks distributed media through newspapers, radio, and evening broadcasts as a service to the American people. They kept the country up to date on global and domestic events. Both of my parents grew up with a family culture that revolved around family dinners and the evening news, a disappearing practice. In those days, the government’s FCC made sure that the news networks were truthful. At least that was the goal. They made sure they verified their sources and remained neutral. The networks complied so that they could keep their distributing licenses and continue broadcasting on the limited “sky” space, as my father called it. The industry was very monopolized, but it kept the news honest, respectable, and trustworthy.

The story began with my father in college. He built cable lines for extra cash as a lineman, so that families could watch television with many more channels. He found the work satisfying and the idea exciting, but, as he eventually realized, cable instigated the decline of network news. The major catalyst of the networks’ downfall, however, was the internet, a true revolution. In its infancy, no one could foresee its possible repercussions, at least not my father, but in our lifetimes, we have watched the monopoly on the news disappear. In its place sprouted a truly accessible platform for anyone to share their opinions, no matter how radical or how loud. Without an adherence to the FCC or any other institution, there no longer exists a responsibility to be truthful: only a desire to be heard. Of course, the extension to our freedom of speech that came with the internet wasn’t all bad. I will be the first to encourage such self- advocacy as someone who always has had to do so for myself. But with internet, there comes a certain noise, a certain high volume, that leaves no room for questioning.

Rather than being a public service, like when my father was a kid, the news is an industry now and a very profitable one. People want to read what they already believe, so they believe what they read. There is a modern vulnerability when it comes to media. People accept what they are told, whether it’s fake or real, as long as it’s catchy, radical, and “loud.” With billions of sources, the most extreme and polarized ones make the most money. Even trustworthy news networks understand this. They understand that people want to hear things that affirm their own political standings. This is why they are most definitely biased (some are left-centered and some are right-centered), but not necessarily “fake.”

So, is louder actually better? Is it easier? There is a shouting swarm of opinions everytime we open our phones. For most people, there is no questioning it; there is no need to. When I hear something loud and clear, I never ask what?. I reserve that question for when I need to ask it. But, maybe this is the problem. People are developing a “difficulty to hear,” to really hear, when it comes to the news. It may be hard to ask questions, and it may be even harder to hear the answers, but we cannot question only the things that conflict with what we already believe. We must question everything and trust nothing. 

I have learned in many aspects of my life that I should never pretend to hear something when I haven’t. I have learned that there is always room to question things and to verify them, even if it is exhausting-- even if it is so much easier to take only what’s given. In a time when everything is so incredibly loud, we still need to ask “what?” as if we didn’t hear it in the first place. And when opinions are too muffled, too drowned out by the noise, we cannot pretend we hear them or that we understand them. With “news” at such high volume, being inquisitive is even harder for us. Louder isn’t easier; it isn’t better. 

“Always ask questions” my father said. Blindness cuts us off from things. Deafness cuts us off from people. Questions keep people, not just those who are hard of hearing, connected. Exhaustion is not an excuse to stop asking-- to stop challenging. The impossible questions, the ones that come out reluctantly over and over again, the ones that scare you, are the ones worth asking.