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Sensationalism

Looking back at the last 21 years of my life, I have found that I have been impressed, if not driven by sensational activities and happenings. It's all around us. In the movies that we watch, to the newspapers that we read, to the gossip that we talk about. You cannot avoid it. Looking at natural disasters, both man-made and natural, one can find sensationalism written all over. How do we cope with disasters? We read about them in the papers, we watch them on television, we talk about them amonst our friends. A thirst for knowledge? Perhaps, but it is also a need to be satisfied. Its this need, that seems to drive the sensationalistic side that is perhaps in many of us.

I went to elementary school in a private school called The Mead School. While it did not advocate a popular private school notion of being a Montessori School, it was certainly an alternative school. There were no uniforms, we did not sit at desks, we sat on pillows, we sat around large tables. Our `homeroom' was called a home center where our cubbies were, and again there were lots of pillows. The school's basic educational philosophy was that people learn at different levels. There were no grade levels, per se, we spent several years in one home center. We did not receive grades, we received reports, where our teachers talked about how we were as students, not on our comprehension of our materials, but about the seven school values similar to Syracuse's five core values.

It was in this school, in 1986 when I first experienced this sensationalistic side of me. I was either 8 or 9 years old. It was a big day for all schools, although I was oblivious to the importantness of the day. I was in the "R.E" when I first heard news of the space shuttle explosion. Unlike many schools who were in auditoriums watching the launch, our school was not. The "R.E." was an abbreviation for Responsive Environment. The R.E. was a place with lots of tables, and games, puzzles, mind games, fish tanks, etc. It served as a place to eat lunch, although we were free to eat lunch anywhere in the school. I can remember many of the older kids were drifting into one of the classrooms... there was a lot of commotion. The school did not have a very adequate technology budget, I suppose, so there were no televisions around. Our science teacher did have a radio and many students were listening to the radio. I, of course, was unaware of the situation. Being 8 years old, all I wanted to do was eat my lunch and play with a computer. Classes resumed for the afternoon, and when I went to my art class on banner making, the art teacher was listening to the radio station as well. I don't remember who, but someone told me that the space shuttle had exploded.

At home that night, I must have watched the news, because to this day, the video footage of the explosion of the Challenger is stuck in my mind. I can tell you how many major pieces it exploded into, what shapes the smoke made it's etched into my mind. I don't remember being sad, though. I don't think I fully comprehended what had happened. But the video footage kept on playing, over and over again. And I watched it over and over again. I suppose that if my school was a traditional school, if we were all paraded into a auditorium and watched the launch that I would have been fascinated at that point, but being the alternative school that we were, I had to quench that thirst for knowledge at home, in watching the replays of the shuttle launch.

At the ripe old age of 9, another major event happened. The stock market dropped 500 points. While I certainly was not a stock market player, and I most likely did not know what the stock market was about, the newspapers did a good job describing it to me. One picture sticks in my mind. Although our family did not receive any major news magazines, I remember seeing this picture in color, and our newspaper did not print in color at the time. There was a picture of a man, sitting on the stock market floor, or on a step, with lots and lots of tickertape around him, with his head resting in his hands, almost between his legs. At the time, and even now, I have no idea what or who the subject of the picture was. Although I did not fully comprehend the situation then, I feel that I learned a lot about journalism and perhaps sensation then. Throughout my four years were at Syracuse, I've learned that journalism, and especially photojournalism is about showing different aspects of people's lives. It is the people that tell the stories that we publicize. The image that I have of the stock market floor certainly introduced me to that subject. The fact that with that one image, I can read a lot into the story of that one stockbroker tells a lot about the power of the image, and the power of photography to tell a story. Even though this wasn't a sensationalistic type of image, the event was large, and it did intrique me.

1989, I was a big baseball fan. The Mets had won the world series three years prior. The Mets had almost won in 1988, but lost in the National League Championship series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was still a big fan of our national pastime. I cannot remember which game of the World Series it was in, but I believe it was a Friday night, and because the series was between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's, it was a late game due to the time difference.
I was watching the pre-game show, and some announcers in the booth were showing highlights from previous games, or something else rather non descript and boring. Suddenly the picture on the television started to move, and became rather staticy, one of the announcer remarked, "I think we're having an earthquake." The picture went to complete static, then to complete black. Our New York affiliate came on quickly to say that they has lost the feed from San Francisco. I watched television that night much more than a usual night. The San Francisco earthquake that had interrupted the World Series couldn't have happened... after all it was the World Series, the biggest sports championship of all times. Later that evening, Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamanti stated that the World Series would continue, despite the possible structural problems to the stadium.
That night, I was amazed. I was glued to the television. I couldn't stop watching. Even in the midst of a disaster, the commissioner of baseball was confident that nothing even a earthquake that damaged the structure of the stadium, could stop baseball from continueing. That night, as I watched news footage of other areas that had been damaged from the earthquake, I could not stop thinking about Giamanti's promise to the people that baseball would continue. Perhaps this has more to do with my love of baseball, but between that and the disaster, Giamanti's image and his promise will stay with me for a long time.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I already started to develop my political point of view. I grew up in the very highly Republican town of Greenwich, Connecticut, where the majority of my schoolmates were given Audis or Acuras for their 16th birthday. I, on the otherhand bought my first car, a 1979 Dodge Aspen Stationwagon from my friend for $1.

My days were pretty routine in high school. My daily trip home involved one big yellow school bus, and a 10-minute walk from the stop to my house. From then, I proceeded to watch as much television as possible until my mom came home about 3 hours later.
As I was not very interested in the news, I usually watched some syndicated television show instead of the 5 o'clock news, but occasionally the news was interesting. This night it was. A motorist, Rodney King, was beaten by four Los Angeles Police Officers during a traffic stop. Although apparently the tape of the beating was many minutes long, the nightly news only elected to show the most severe part of the beating... over and over and over again. I remember being very intrigued by this. I wanted to understand what exactly had happened 2500 miles across the country. It did not make sense to me that this was a routine trafffic stop, something else must have happened. Politically, I kept defending the officers. My Republican views told me to believe their stories that he was high on some drug, and wouldn't do what the officers told him to do. Did I watch to prove myself wrong?

And the day that the trial against the four LA police officers concluded, I watched and watched as well. I watched the looting, the vandalism, the assaults. I remember watching footage of a trailer driver being dragged out of his cab, and beaten on the ground. This was not the movies, it was real. It was life. But I truly enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn't stop watching. I often wonder, looking back, was I more interested the news aspect of the events surrounding south-central Los Angeles, or was I more intrigued by the carnage, the violence, the sensation?

The years came and went, and more violent images passed through my head, although they didn't affect me like the others. The World Trade Center was bombed, and all I really remember was the many, many flashing lights of the police, fire trucks, and ambulances, lined up down the streets in front of the towers.

In Waco, Texas, the compound was stormed by officers and members of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm agency. While I stayed glued to the television to see if there were any images from inside the compound, the news media did not concentrate on the gore, the violence, and perhaps as a result, I remember the event, but no mental images. Perhaps indeed it is the violence, both man-made and natural that draws me into the situation.

In the second semester of my freshman year at Syracuse, I obtained a work-study job at Eggers' Cafe, located on the third floor of Eggers Hall. One of my all-time favorite duties was dishroom, and also taking out the trash. On one trip down to the dumpsters behind Maxwell Hall, I stopped on the balcony overlooking the Maxwell atrium area. There are two televisions that hang in the area. One was tuned to CNN, the other to CSPAN, and both were showing pictures of this huge building that was essentially missing an entire side to it! I was amazed. I asked a person standing next to me what was going on. He told me that the federal building in Oklahoma exploded. There were many people standing around the televisions watching. I wanted to watch, I wanted to find out what was going on, but because I was working, I had to go back into the cafe. I told the ladies that I worked with what I thought had happened, but they were rather uninterested. I couldn't believe it; I was fascinated with this building that virtually was missing an entire side due to an explosion, but some people weren't especially my supervisors who were more interested in getting their jobs done making sandwiches that caring about a national tragedy. I went back to work, not because I wasn't fascinated by the story of the bombing, but the atmophere portrayed by the other employees were not of fascination.

On a bright day, two summers ago, I woke up early one morning to go to work. I worked for the university that summer, running the front desk of one of the residence halls here on campus. Our hall was open for sport camps lots of high-school-aged kids running around wreaking havoc on the building. I was working the early shift, requiring me to open the main desk at 6:45 in the morning. Luckily for me, there was a TV that faced the front desk so I could watch it. Normally, there is nothing of interest on that early in the morning. It was usually Good Morning America, or a paid-programming show, but as I turned on the TV, I saw Tom Brokaw reporting. It seemed odd that he would be on so early in the morning, since his newscast comes on at night. It soon became apparent what had happened. In the middle of the night, there was a large explosion in the Olympic Park in Atlanta. Several news crews were filming when the explosion went off, first a reporter was interviewing a member of the US swim team perhaps Janet Evans. Suddenly there was a large boom, the mirror shook, and the interviewer and interviewee quickly rushed off camera. The other shot was of a band that was playing inside the park. The explosion happened and the band stopped playing, and people in the audience started running away. Although my job made me stay and sit at the front desk, I was intrigued by the disaster and I watched for hours. My thirst for knowledge as well as answers made me stay on the news channel, and not change it to some lighter material. The kids that were occupying my hall came down for breakfast a few hours later, and because the news was of no interest to them, changed the channel. I was upset. I hadn't gotten any answers from the television as to why the bombing occured, and I wanted them. I knew what had happened, and what they were reporting was not of any major news, since they were still in the early stages of investigating, but I wanted to stay tuned to the station. I liked watching the interview with Janet Evans being replayed and replayed again it helped me understand the sequence of events and the situation.

Many of my strongest memories have to do with death and destruction of some sort. I truly am sensationalistic. I own a police scanner. I listen for fires, accidents, arrests. I'm a member of the media. I like writing the stories about how many people died in a train crash in Nevada, or a fire that left a family stranded. Is this evil? Why has this been instilled inside of me? Why is the public fascinated with these events as well? Why are more newspapers sold when tragedy strikes? My morals, and perhaps the morals of the country should probably be rethought, and sensationalism probably should not be a part of the reconstruction of them.

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