A desensitized public, operating the press purely as a business and intrusion of privacy and grief are three strikes against modern journalism.
I believe there are ways of dealing with and reducing all three issues.
Firstly, no doubt exists that the public is desensitized to drama, gore and overall bad news. Much of this is not caused by journalists but by the entertainment industry. The problem is that the media has started to adopt the mannerisms of the entertainers because entertainment “sells.”
Aristotle taught us to avoid extremes and seek moderation. Making the news into a Hollywood production is creating a generation of viewers and readers that aren’t surprised by anything because headlines are bold and dramatic and television personalities strain out emotion and often try to force drama into otherwise dry subject matter. We should not dryly report the news either. If the news is boring and completely uninteresting, it will be just as bad as it is now.
The solution is to adopt professionalism. Needlessly verbose or unworthy dramatic headlines should be avoided. Leads should be compelling but not exaggerated. Audio and video reporters should refrain from using emotion in newscasts, especially in scheduled news programs. Reporters should deliver the news, neither theatrically nor monotonously, but professionally.
The media as a for-profit business is a problem for journalism but essential for survival. It is a manageable problem. Managing editors should have a less active role in the selection and prioritization of the news. The news should not exist and be delivered as a moneymaking mechanism. Those efforts should be directed separately towards advertising revenues, subscription sales (in applicable) and other promotions and business activity separate from the reporting of the news. Media can be a business as long as the business isn’t media.
Finally, intrusion of grief and privacy is always a concern in this business. I believe that the dramatic culture of journalism in this generation contributes to that stigma. The solution is to send only select journalists on these assignments. We want older/mature journalists with soft/friendly voices and approachable faces who don’t pull the notepad out or stick the microphone in the face of the grieving as soon as they arrive.
We want to establish a rapport with the victims and families, not scare them away from us. We should train reporters to approach victims and mourners slowly, unthreateningly, and to sit down with these people and get into a dialog even before they start going on the record.
People want to tell their stories. Parents want the world to know all about their dead children. Husbands want to tell the story of their late wives. But in grief comes a range of other emotions that journalists need to avoid triggering. We can do this right but it will require training and our own willingness to change.