Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sensationalism and its lingering effects

[NOTE: This post includes rants and references to controversial topics.  If you find that unsettling, skip this post.]

When I was in high school, I was on the newspaper staff for two years.  I thought very seriously about trying to become a journalist when I grew up.  For a while, it would have been my dream to work for the Chicago Tribune or National Geographic.

Fast forward to the present.  I have become very disenchanted with the news media and how "news" coverage has progressed, especially in the internet age.  I won't watch the news and I try to avoid reading newspapers or news websites.  This is because 99% of the stories are about murder, crime, disasters, corruption, economic doom, gossip, or speculation.  Negativity can be very commanding and I find that being surrounded by it can be very depressing.

I really feel that media sensationalism has gotten over the top.  I despise the headlines that are half-truths just to draw you in to reading.  It can be infuriating to read so many biased or one-sided articles - and I am NOT referring to the editorials.  The days are gone when the news media provided neutral summaries of just the facts.  Now the motto is, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Statistically, driving a car is much more dangerous than riding in an airplane.  However, the news media would have us believe that airplanes are incredibly dangerous.  This is because they rarely provide coverage of everyday car accidents, unless they are especially gruesome, but are all over any single plane crash for weeks at a time.  This is just one example.  I could provide hundreds of examples of how over time the media misrepresents occurrences.

Yes, I am embittered due to personal experience.  I worked for Arthur Andersen in the wake of the Enron scandal, and Adam is a Penn State alum in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.  Both of us have had to deal with unflattering media commentary which some then redirected to us personally, even though obviously neither of us had any direct involvement.  Even when only partial information was available, we have both come across people that absolutely believe that anyone associated with Arthur Andersen or Penn State is guilty by association and therefore does not deserve the time of day.  One would think that people would know not to make such narrow-minded and overwhelmingly sweeping generalizations, but not so.

I realize that it's nearly impossible not to impart some kind of bias into your writing.  We were even taught this in our journalism classes.  For example, there was a study done where a number of folks watched a video of a car going off the side of a cliff and were asked to estimate the speed at which the car was traveling.  When people were asked what speed the "car plummeted" or the "car careened" off the cliff, their average estimated speeds were faster than those that were asked what speed the "car fell" or "car drove off" the cliff.

In short, simple word choice can really impact the perspective of a reader or outsider.  Lawyers may be aware of this phenomemon in a courtroom, because word choice may affect the outcome of a trial.  Heck, I worked for years in a practice where we couldn't use the word "significantly" in our reports because it is subjective.  What is significant to one is trivial to another.

Where am I going with this?  I have been reading a LOT of runner's blogs and discussions boards about running over the past few months.  I am slowly becoming more and more certain that I am in the bottom 1% of runners everywhere.  I've lamented this to Adam several times.  He consoles me that blogs/discussion boards are self-selected and that typically runners will only blog or post about running when they are serious runners; most casual runners or nonrunners won't.  He reminds me that serious runners, by definition, have dedicated a lot of time and effort into their training and are therefore much more likely to be very strong runners.  Basically, the runners webisphere is not representative of the entire universe.

I know that I posted earlier about trying not to compare myself to others, to focus on my own goals and progress, and to not take anything for granted.  I try to read all these runners' blogs and discussion boards to learn from them and be inspired.  But it really does get discouraging sometimes reading so frequently about the incredible goals that others have for themselves and then thinking about what I myself am trying to accomplish.  Why is it so challenging to stop thinking this way?  I'm not even that competitive.  Although, sometimes I do wish that there was a stronger correlation between hard work and results (this goes beyond running).

Maybe it's time to take a break from the grind and start studying up on self-affirmations.  Or maybe it's just time for a real vacation.  None of this three- or four-day weekend garbage.  Let's talk about a minimum 6-month vacation, twice a year, every year.


  1. Ugh, that is why I do not really pay much attention to the news, and take anything I see with a grain of salt.

    When you say what is significant to one person is not to another, you have to remember that what is significant to one runner is not to another. We are all on our own journey!

    BUT! I do know it is hard not to compare. I think the forums get a bit more vicious so I avoid those. And when anyone has a particularly braggy post I might ignore it too. I do realize though that I will never be fast like some people, and I am okay with that! I might get fast "for me" but my fast is many't "slow."

    1. Very well said. Thanks for understanding.

      For sure, what is significant to one runner is not to another. I guess I just feel like I'm almost always on the wrong end of that - that what is so significant to me is nothing to most runners, you know? But I know that the ability to run, period, is a blessing, and I should be grateful for that. Just need to keep reminding myself.

      I think your fast is *incredibly* fast. =) I really admire how hard you work!

  2. Yes...keep in mind that slow runners (like me) don't speak up and blab their pace all over facebook and the Internet to see. And think of the number of people sitting on their butts doing zero running at all - they are not broadcasting this fact either...As I run and track my running with my Nike+ device, it shows me how I compare to others. It was extremely discouraging to me to see that in a challenge to get out there and run today for leap year, that before I got my 2 mile run in (by 7:30 am this morning), someone else had already run a marathon today. Now, seriously, did that happen? It could have, I suppose. Or perhaps they sat on the couch and shook their shoe just so that it would register that they did 26.2 miles before 7:30am today - LOL! I may never know the truth and it really doesn't matter. The fact is that I know that I was not going to run today, (since I did yesterday and I'm a firm believer in rest days), but b/c Nike challenged me to do it, so I did it!! So what that it was only 2 miles? It was 2 miles more than a lot of people did...and 2 miles more than I ran the entire year of 2010...that's what you should be comparing to...your own PRs are what is important and just getting out there and running at all. :)

    1. Thank you for the pep talk, encouragement, and great perspective!

      Someone supposedly got a marathon in by 7:30 AM EST this morning, eh?!? I agree with you that it seems more plausible that they sat on their couch and shook their shoe like a Shake Weight. (If I knew that I was a Nielsen household, I would turn the TV on to PBS and then go on about my other business!) =D

      Regardless of pace, all of your 12-mile-plus training runs are incredible! Not to mention that you still go out and run on days when the temps are in the single digits. Your motivation is truly, truly amazing and it's awe-inspiring to see how much and how quickly your training has progressed!

      Happy birthday again yesterday, by the way - glad to hear that you had such a wonderful birthday!!!

  3. It makes me sad to hear that you feel like you in the bottom 1% of runners! That is just so not the case! The comparison trap is one that we are all susceptible to. There is always someone faster or going farther or earning more miles per week. Just keep focusing on your goals. (Easier said than done, I know!)

    I also want to say that I completely agree with you about the news being bad, bad, bad. I have started to decrease the amount that I watch. I initially thought that the war coverage would freak me out with my husband being deployed, but it's actually the other stuff they talk about that I don't like. Things like murder, and kidnapping, and violence. Deployment is already a dark place without being inundated with that stuff. I've already stopped watching Law & Order (a favorite show of mine!) and now the news.*

    1. Thanks, Amy! You're right, just focus on our own goals - it's a new mantra I'm trying to instill. =)

      I can only imagine how hard it is for you to deal with your husband's deployment, period. Watching the news certainly doesn't help any of us that have a lot on our emotional plates! I hear you about Law & Order, too, especially SVU. Some of the story lines are so gruesome that I rarely watch it much anymore, myself.

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