When a newspaper releases information about a murder, they don’t just cover the basics. Every single uncomfortable detail about it is included, and it’s completely unnecessary.
As podcasts and longform journalism continue to dive deeper into people’s lives to create juicier content for readers, they often do so without permission from the subjects of their investigations. That’s where journalistic integrity starts to dissipate.
Pushing the details of disturbing content has become common in a variety of media outlets, and it speaks to the increasingly voyeuristic society we’re living in. It’s something I was finally able to understand clearly over the winter break after listening to the incredibly popular podcast “S-Town.”
Downloaded 40 million times since its release last March, this podcast explores the secret life of an Alabaman named John B. McLemore following his unexpected death. The justification for the podcast is skimmed over, with the host briefly citing McLemore’s atheism and a previously alleged murder in his town as the clearest reason for stepping deeply into the subject’s personal life. The overwhelming response to deep, personal investigations into the troubled lives of others has been immense — it’s what has allowed a podcast like “S-Town” to flourish.
Though it’s not new to see that people love dramatic content, the bar continues to be raised in regards to what’s considered popular and entertaining. And with that bar rising, the push for more exploitative material will continue.
Living in a world where entertainment and media is more accessible than ever, we must begin to question the types of media we consume. While listening to “S-Town,” I started to ask myself if I deserved to know such personal information about McLemore. Why was it relevant? The answers weren’t redeeming.
There’s a distinct difference between relevant details and voyeuristic media. When media is published to inform and contribute significant information to our society, it can maintain a moral standard. But when the story intrudes needlessly on the personal lives of those involved, giving overtly explicit details for the purposes of entertaining the readers or listeners, it becomes unnecessarily intrusive.
Journalism exists to inform and contribute to society. But when it exploits the lives of others to entertain readers, its integrity is compromised.
Matt is The Journal’s Assistant Sports Editor. He’s a second-year English major.
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