There was a question in my JOMC 240 class today that struck me. My professor asked us if it was the media's job to shape public opinion. I thought about it for a minute and thought to myself well it is the media's job to report news fairly, but what people do with that information and how they interpret it is up to them. Now, I do think the media has a role in shaping public opinion based on societal norms and biases that people in a certain culture form about certain things and certain people. Journalists and the media should be careful about how they write their stories and how people will receive it.
For example, given the recent shootings of the three students in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, some of the media covered it focusing on the student's religion more so than the fact that they were students. Some headlines wrote "Three Muslim students were killed in Chapel Hill shooting." Others like CNN read "3 students shot to death in an apartment near UNC Chapel Hill." CNN's headline is more appropriate in my opinion because it creates little bias. However, I think we should not totally ignore the fact that they were Muslim knowing it could have something to do with the murder.
I also think the headline about them being Muslim was newsworthy because despite the fact that people are killed everyday, the fact that it was Muslim students and that it could have been a hate-crime makes people more aware of the issues we have in this country with race and minorities. I know we say that their names should have been mentioned before the fact that they were Muslim or that they should have been referred to as just students, but no one would see the significance behind the story. People will read it because for one it is a tragic story but secondly it points to this stigma that Americans have toward the Muslim community. I think the mention of them being Muslim even before the news media found out their names is important for people to know because it was Muslims as victims instead of Muslims as assailants. Names are very important in a news story and I think race and religion would have shown up anyway just because of the views that the American society has about Muslims.
This story and their legacy represents good Muslims who were not like the radical Muslims killing innocent people in foreign countries. If I were writing about this story in a newspaper I would make it very clear that these were people first. They wanted to live their lives, be successful and serve others just as any other human being would. Then I would point to he fact that they were Muslim and proud of it because that was a huge part of who they were.
So, back to whether media shapes public opinion or not. It certainly does. People are very quick to listen what the media says whether it is on Twitter, ABC news, The Daily Tar Heel, etc.Going back to the way the media handled the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, they said it was a gay-related disease, so that was what most people thought. Even to this day older generations who grew up during that time still think of it as a gay disease because that's how the media framed it.
People trust in media so much that they begin to think what it says is true. That's what media companies strive for (aside from social media). They strive for truthfulness and honesty, so informing the public on something like this by focusing on the way it is phrased forces media outlets to work harder to not twist public opinion in a way that will be detrimental to the country and possibly the world.
---Rest in peace Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. You will never be forgotten.