An attention span beyond Flight 370

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President Obama has challenged our nation’s educators to increase the percentage of young people attending and graduating from college, so that we might better compete with other industrialized countries.  People applaud at these sentiments, but these educational goals get little media attention. Yet, such coverage would raise an important issue and, perhaps, push us toward solutions.

I do not begrudge the extensive coverage of Flight 370. The disappearance of a plane is both a mystery and a tragedy. But the excessive coverage of Flight 370 reminds us of the power of the media. If something is repeated enough, and repeatedly enough, it wiggles its way into our consciousness. Thus, the pilots have been tried and convicted by media speculation, without anyone actually knowing what happened.

What if such repetition were used to highlight some of our nation’s most serious social and economic challenges. What if we could get a couple of networks, just for a week, focus on reading proficiency, or the environment, or poverty and inequality? Perhaps we can’t focus on these issues because we can’t agree on their causes, not when the likes of Rand Paul are running around excoriating the poor and the unemployed every chance he gets. Or with, despite this long and frigid winter, the global warming deniers won’t give any ground.

The media is used to rivet attention toward an issue or challenge. Unfortunately, it has rarely been used for good, although it could be. What if viewers demanded that there is some focus on essential issues? What if there were a media campaign to encourage children to read more, and encourage parents and teachers to encourage this reading. Such a campaign might include paid advertising, but much of it might be driven by news stories.

May I have your attention please? Might I have your attention about poverty and unemployment? May I have your attention about the status of our young people? What about the literacy issue? The paucity of open space in some cities?

May I have your attention about the importance of getting out the vote? I want your attention about the effectiveness of standardized tests. I need your attention on the automobile manufacturers who sell defective cars and take a whole three years to recall them.

In the wake of the Flight 370 tragedy we will learn, undoubtedly, about those who lost their lives because of the tragedy.  Only rarely, however, will we learn about the most recent victim of gun violence. May I have your attention? Please.

(Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.)

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