Take a deep breath, this isn’t going to be another “journalism is in the toilet” soapbox. That’s not to say our industry is without problems. Dedicated readers and newsroom veterans alike are more than aware that journalism has seen its share of rough patches in the U.S. with declining circulations and declining advertising revenue often blamed on the internet’s rising star.
Online journalism is here to stay and it carries exponential influence. It’s exciting to watch the internet unfold and venture into new forms of visual storytelling and build on its strength of breaking imminent news, which newspapers could never do. The internet has become a place where young, aspiring journalists, including bloggers, can hone their skills and become literary rock stars without a single job interview or to ever step into a newsroom. I am grateful the internet can preserve the industry and reach readers like never before.
But like a bright young man wasting his potential in school in exchange for being the class clown to earn a cheap laugh, I take issue with the industry straying so far from its core principles just to be a flash in the pan. The slow coverage of the 223 girls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria made my blood boil with each day that passed. (Reportedly, more than 300 girls were kidnapped and 53 escaped, dropping the total number of missing girls to 276.) I would search the web to no satisfaction for updates and take several expletive breaks as I tried to comprehend just #WTF is happening! In the midst of this crisis, on days when I simply wanted to check my email and see what news would brush past me as I clicked toward my destination, I was utterly disappointed. Increasingly, I find myself more inundated with rotten and temporary “news” headlines virtually devoid of any redeeming substance than I do about the contemporary issues that are shaping our world.
This latest egregious mistake in journalism has left me longing to see the internet evolve to its next stage as quickly as possible. My personal disgust for the suppressed information about the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria cannot be masked, nor my contempt for the editors who make strategic decisions everyday about how and where content is placed, but couldn’t find room for 276 valuable lives. In suburban white America, it would only take 275 less kidnappings in one town to galvanize our nation or possibly earn a sidebar in a nationally-syndicated newspaper. We’ve seen this before.
More than two weeks have passed since the story first broke of 276 girls kidnapped from their all-girl school. The story was submerged and remained that way until recently. I asked myself, “submerged under what … and why?” The Los Angeles Clippers and Donald Sterling controversy came days later. Could America only handle one major black controversy at a time? And if so, if I dare to parallel these two stories, why do harmful words matter more than harmful actions? Nigerians are known for their familiarity and admiration of Western culture. I’ve never met a Nigerian who didn’t pride him or herself on understanding the West. These abducted girls deserve an answer as to why they didn’t matter to us when their situation was so timely. Only now has their story begun to permeate the news circuit.
The urgency of the plight of these young women is real. Their fates are unknown. Their families worry and do what they can to pressure Nigerian officials to do more to recover their children. Dozens of Nigerians are trying to move boulders and we treat them as if they are alone. As leaders in the world community and citizens, Americans have immeasurable power in persuading – if not forcing – international authorities to do right by their people. If my counterparts in internet news have forgotten that the Net (network) is intended to connect, then it is in readers’ hands to wake them up. Their power to change and to turn the boulders in Nigeria into mere rocks is real.
News editors are not solely to blame if readers realize that they are equally powerful. Truth-be-told, as much as news stories can be humanizing and educational, journalism is a profit-driven industry with a voracious appetite right now – and it’s simply trying to eat like any corporation. When international tragedies strike like it did with 276 innocent Nigerian girls, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and humanity to click, post, and text the stories that really matter. Readers have to let editors know what matters the most rather than continue to allow the powers that be turn it the other way.
Until then, I foresee more Kardashians in online “news”, iPhone rumors will again be recycled … and I will mentally regurgitate. Perhaps I shouldn’t wait and instead look for the obvious silver lining. I hear there’s a “scandalous” new #selfie of James Franco. How’s that for substance?
Corey Arvin is Associate Editor of Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com.