Mar 252012
Authors: Seth Stern

The Trayvon Martin murder is the story, yet the movement to bring attention to his murder has overshadowed his death. This has represented the struggle of old media (T.V., radio and print) to keep up with new media (Internet news and social media).

If you talk to most people in the newspaper industry or present-day journalism professors and ask what the future of journalism is, you’ll likely hear one of two theories: newspapers are dying a deserved death –– this is likely the view you’ll hear from the younger professionals. Or, we have no idea.

Introduce consumer-generated content into the question and you may very well have the privilege of witnessing a Scanners-like cranial explosion. The idea of untrained citizens generating content is abhorrent to many of the old-school professionals.

Unfortunately for society, the hard news reporting and opinion writing have faltered through the transition as the new media of the Internet have gathered strength and the economy has sputtered, thus killing off much of the knowledgeable journalism.

I’m not saying it’s undeserved –– the newspaper industry stood indignantly by their presses, stamping their feet saying, “people will always need newspapers,” as if they were VHS manufacturers apoplectic DVDs began to replace their technology.

Of course, VHS manufacturers in reality began producing DVDs in order to keep from going under. In other words, they adapted to the emerging medium. But otherwise, the stubbornness on display from the print industry really has been remarkably shortsighted.

This weekend’s coverage of the social movement to bring attention to Trayvon Martin’s murder jumped out at me. Had the story been covered better when it first emerged, perhaps George Zimmerman would have been properly charged with a crime he would have then been able to make his case to a jury.

Instead, someone in the local government decided the facts of the case didn’t warrant charges, and the social media movement to bring attention to the case, much like an avalanche, started gathering steam and what was covered most was the movement –– not the murder.

A similar effect was witnessed recently when the YouTube movie “Kony 2012” went viral and amassed 84 million views in just a few weeks. Are the events of human trafficking and the murder of an unarmed young black man in an affluent, gated community newsworthy? Of course. However, when social media sinks its claws into a story like this, the old media is struggling to properly frame the story.

Instead of reading the hard news of the case, what we’ve been reading about is the social response. In my lifetime, the last time something similar happened was in response to the “not guilty” verdict in the first trial of the LAPD officers who beat Rodney King.

The old school media, in case you are not aware, deserves a great deal of the blame for those riots. They embraced sensationalism as the path to revenue and showed only a portion of the full video shown to jurors in that trial, and the facts of the case were not properly covered at all.

As a former flatfoot in the Air Force and as a criminal justice major, I can tell you I see an awful lot of similarities forming. The anger and hatred involved in this case are only growing, and if the legal system does not find a way to intervene fast, George Zimmerman may very well find himself the victim of the mob mentality.

I do not claim to know every event leading up to Trayvon’s murder Feb. 26, but I do know when these cases go to trial the system is still predicated on, “innocent until proven guilty,” and the burden is on the prosecutor to prove Zimmerman committed whichever crime they charge him with.

It strikes me as doubtful this is going to have a peaceful ending. The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who “captures” Zimmerman. Whatever, it’s not like the New Black Panthers are anything more than a politically active gang of thugs; nor, thankfully, do they represent very much of society. But this is the type of energy that turns into riots when the lynch mob is disappointed in a verdict.

Sensationalism is dangerous, this is unquestionably true; but how does a society obsessed with celebrities and stupidity (apologies for the redundancy) break away? It starts with the consumer. You have to decide to turn off “Jersey Shore” and start reading hard news.

S. Jacob Stern is seeking employment in social media. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. He can be reached at

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