The average American attention span is notorious for being short. It is hard to keep the attention of the average American and that is becoming more and more evident in the counterproductive way that social justice issues are being addressed in today’s media. Important issues such as gun violence, racism, and sexual assault only become relevant when a story comes to light that is consistently talked about by media outlets. With this happening in such an inconsistent pattern, important issues are only addressed at the peak of the wave of media coverage and then come crashing down right before our eyes. This is noticeable in just about every current event that we have seen come to light in the past few months. The Puerto Rican victims of the hurricane are still struggling, but no one is talking about it. Sexual assault victims in the entertainment industry are still trying to have their stories heard, but that is ‘old news’ now. Gun violence in schools is still a very real threat, but news outlets are tired of talking about it. Is this one of the main reasons issues are not resolved in our society? Why don’t people pay attention?
When we look retrospectively at the dramatic shift in the fight for gun laws during the months of February and March, the media coverage played a huge part in the way the issue was addressed. The coverage was immense and almost overwhelming right after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14th. For weeks, all that anyone was talking about was the need for change before a tragedy like this happened again, but soon the conversation came to a halt. What was different about this particular conversation was that after everyone seemingly stopped talking about it, the national walkouts occurred. Media coverage revved right back up in either outrage or awe at the thousands of students that made their voices heard on March 14. Then, just as the water was calming, the marches happened on March 24. That is what made this particular conversation special. Just when the world’s attention started to shift, something occurred that brought it back. This is not something the world sees often because most of the time activists are discouraged by the way the focus shifts after a couple weeks.
This shift in awareness is apparent in most widely covered scandals. There were many sexual assault allegations during this past award show season. After the entertainment industry broadcast allegations against moguls and superstars such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Franco, and Mario Testino, there was widespread reporting. For most of the award show season, everyone was talking about the Times Up movement and wondering who would be exposed next. Then, at the turn of the year, it seemed as though everyone just stopped wondering. That does not mean sexual assault is not still happening or that there are not stories needing to be heard. The media stopped covering the scandals because America stopped listening.
Now, one can not place all the blame on media outlets. Media outlets adapt their coverage based on the way the general public responds. If no one is talking, tweeting or posting about it, then the media will not cover it. The attention paid to everyday events directly correlates to what we see on the front page of the paper, the homepage of The New York Times, or what is talked about on CNN. It is up to the public to keep the American eye focused on what should always be front page news.
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