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Opinion

The good, bad, ugly of watchdog media

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December 6, 2012

Today, there are a variety of media outlets that provide 24/7 news coverage to listeners and viewers. These outlets are often referred to as “the watchdog media” because they act as watchdogs by covering every story that is deemed to be of importance in our society. Programs such as CNN, FOX News, MSNBC and many others participate in this trend to increase viewership. This excessive media coverage can be advantageous, but more often than not, the content in these programs creates major problems that pose a threat to our society.

The main advantage of “the watchdog media” is that these programs act as a “check” on the people who hold power in our country. These leaders realize that watchdog media outlets are constantly observing every move they make. If these public figures make a mistake or abuse their power, the entire country will know about the incident within minutes.

This constant coverage creates a layer of added pressure for our leaders to act in a morally upstanding manner by doing what is in the best interest of the citizens. This mechanism is not always effective, but the presence of “the watchdog media” undoubtedly guides, to a certain extent, the way our country’s leaders exert their power.

Despite this key advantage, there are only so many events in each given day that can be considered newsworthy. Because of this fact, these 24/7 media outlets are forced to find additional content to fill up the space and airtime that the real news fails to occupy. Whenever these media outlets search for suitable content for filling this extra time, these stories are anything but newsworthy.

My all-time favorite example of one of these “filler stories” was back in 2009 when CNN reported excessively on the “Balloon Boy” story. This hoax occurred in Fort Collins, Colo. when a couple filled a gas balloon with Helium and allowed it to float away. After they released the balloon, they claimed that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was inside of the gas balloon.

CNN covered this story for over three hours, and they even went so far as to track the path of the balloon on a map. By the time the program had reached this point, I was only watching because it was comical. According to my public school education, it is physically impossible for a 6-year-old child to float into the atmosphere in a gas balloon filled with Helium.

Furthermore, even if little Falcon could have floated away in the gas balloon, he would have died within minutes due to the lack of Oxygen. Despite these basic scientific facts, CNN continued to follow the story due to the lack of news flow that day.

Another danger these watchdog media outlets face is how quickly they are expected to relay content to the public. Sometimes reporters are in such a rush to release the story that the information in the report is not fully accurate, or there may be errors in the information that is conveyed.

When such an event occurs, the result is that listeners and viewers are misinformed, and the false or inaccurate information could potentially have harmful consequences. If programs misinform viewers with any level of frequency, the audience will no longer trust those media outlets.

When listeners and viewers distrust the media, it creates a monumental problem because these outlets are our news sources. Without news flow between these programs and American citizens, the operation of our society would be compromised beyond belief.

While “the watchdog media” has its upside, the downfalls of these programs have the potential to wreak havoc in a variety of ways. This form of media has clearly become a staple of our modern society, and I don’t believe it is feasible or wise for these outlets to be completely eliminated. The solution is obvious: “the watchdog media” needs to be much more selective when deciding which stories to report and the manner in which to report them. In a country where one slip up could affect the relationship between the media and the public, there is no room for error.

Morgan Stippel is a political science major and a professional writing minor. When she graduates from UW-River Falls, she wants to become a state prosecutor and specialize in domestic violence cases.