Opinion | The failures of the 24-hour news cycle

Caden McQueen
Freshman film studies major

On the morning of Oct. 6 I decided to wake up early to see the new Henley Hall gym in an attempt to beat the crowds. When I walked in, I was greeted with an abundance of shiny new exercise equipment; rows and rows of treadmills, ellipticals, stair masters and the like made to look as though they stretched into infinity by the mirror-lined walls.

It was the perfect morning; I had the place to myself. As I stepped onto a treadmill and began to absentmindedly jog, my eyes landed on one of the various T.V. screens suspended from the ceiling. On Fox News, a report on a crime that occurred late the night before was playing – an unnamed smoke shop clerk had been shot dead in San Jacinto, California, by an unidentified man during an attempted robbery. The network spent around 20 seconds describing the story, describing the events that occurred and offered brief condolences before instantly leaping into a jubilant recount of the Los Angeles Dodgers stellar 10-4 victory over the Washington Nationals.

As an avid follower of the news, this shouldn’t have phased me at all. The breakneck speed of the 24-hour news cycle results in things like this happening all the time. Yet for some reason, this one incident struck me as particularly wrong. What about that clerk in San Jacinto? Are those 20 seconds all his life amounted to? We’ll never know his name, who he was, what he did, if his murderer was ever brought to justice; there was never any follow-up story. And even worse, his 20 seconds – the public’s only chance to empathize with him and the community he was a part of – was glazed over almost instantly by the aforementioned Dodger’s game. It was disturbingly utilitarian in nature; the network seemed so cold and unfeeling as it plowed through the plight of this smoke shop clerk. I was disgusted.

Of course, I must allow for the fact that the news has many other stories of equal value to report on and airtime isn’t unlimited but – and maybe it’s just the humanist in me talking – I think a life is worth more than 20 seconds. To surmise this man’s life in a time period so short, and furthermore to swing into something as lighthearted as a baseball game afterwards without missing a beat, is utterly dismissive. It’s disrespectful not only to the clerk that lost his life, but also to those in his community that counted on the news to treat his story with the dignity it deserves.

This story is just one of the many victims of the relentless pacing in the 24-hour news cycle. It demands so many stories be relayed to audiences in so little time. Everything, no matter what it may entail, is compressed into nothing more than a sound bite. It’s appalling; it deprives these stories of their complexity and their humanity for the sole purpose of making them easier to consume. Combine this with intermittent advertising and what remains is something profiteering and despicable.

Networks that partake in the 24-hour news cycle need to reassess themselves before their human side is lost. This air of utilitarianism is completely improper when dealing with emotionally charged accounts of life and loss thereof. To churn through them in such a brief and machinelike manner is cruel to those involved. Networks cannot continue stripping down and devaluing these stories, this has got to change. They need to treat these events – no matter how small and seemingly insignificant they may be – tactfully and with respect. We, the public, must be given a chance to not only hear about these events but to truly understand them and the impact they have on the world for the sake of those involved. This cannot be done in 20 seconds.

Please take the time to remember the smoke shop clerk in San Jacinto. Consider who he was, who he could have been and the hole his absence has left in his community. For the media will not.