Do media dictate our decisions?

Last Saturday, I was planning on going to the MIT career fair. Browsing through my emails as I’m having breakfast a couple of people had already emailed the Fletcher social list and my personal emaiI about the gunman threat on campus. Contemplated for a minute or two and thought it can’t be that serious until my phone rang on my way out: my mother called from Greece and asked me to stay home all day in view of the danger?!

To relief her stress I promised to stay home. I did not even think to ask her how did she even find out about this on the other side of the Atlantic. Evidently, the power of media and technology, even though some scholars argue it makes little or no difference, in fact sometimes dictates our decisions.

Reporting war, violence, or crisis is crucial and people have a right to know what is happening at all times. This is a fortunate situation for media conglomerates as crisis is easier to report and sell than peaceful times. It is often the case when journalists and editors choose the angle that will make the story more appealing rather than more reality reflective. That is what disturbs me as a reader since the goal should not be to instill fear and terror but to raise awareness of a situation. On the other hand, as a marketing and communication specialist I understand that this is how media make a living.

Not to undermine the variety of skills and talent it takes to be a good reporter, there are two incidents from my home country Greece that address the issue from both sides of the spectrum from extensive to no coverage at all. 2011 was definitely not a great year for the country’s domestic politics. There were a lot of protests, riots, and general turbulence, which both national and international media covered extensively to say the least.

While watching the news in the evening, I saw images of Athens that resembled a battlefield to say the least. It seemed as if the whole country was mercilessly combating in the streets. If I did not live in Greece at the time, I myself would feel there is no tomorrow. Funny enough though, I lived just two blocks away from where all the famous riots took place, and those never made it to my neighborhood – meaning that all that was shown was taking place on the main square – Syntagma. Was this not bad? Of course it was and sometimes the situation did really get out of hand, but that was not the norm. However, the constant international media illustration of the Greek news seriously affected the perception of the world for the safety of the country and therefore negatively impacted tourism (which is one of the main revenue generating sources for the nation), not to mention the international public opinion about the country overall.

On another note, in mid May of the same year, the media were on a strike for 2 days, No information whatsoever on any kind of legitimate reliable source besides blogs. Thousands of blogs per day reporting conflicting stories. Nobody really knew what was going on but regardless of the information scarcity…life goes on. Two of my brave friends from Australia that had been traveling the world for the past 7 months, were in town for one night. We set a meeting 8pm at Syntagma square.

Leaving the office everyone assured me that “all is good”  but walking on the empty streets, I sensed a negative vibe. I get to the north side of the square and I can see the figures of my friends on the very south end. Less than a second later, hundreds of people dressed in black, holding bats and throwing rocks simultaneously dashed into the square form the west and east side. Before I know it, I trapped in teargas in the middle of the riot. Needless to say that later on that night my visiting friends acknowledged this experience as the worst of their long trip, after having been through the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution riots.

Was it really that bad? Frankly I doubt it…but what made it horrible was the fact that we did not know and clearly we did not expect this. Had the media been working their regular shifts, we would have definitely made different decisions. Going back to the MIT gunman alert – where all this discussion started – what I am sure of is that the lack of news and information can be detrimental, and even though the truth is often skewed to match the expectations of a publication’s target audience, it is better to know  beforehand and prepare than to find out the hard way!

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