As one sees on occasion in the news, there was a local story of a child with a disease that was being treated. The purpose is to elicit sympathy and/or inspiration, which is unsurprising and worthy. But it gets one thinking when considering the details and narrative frame. The reporting is often about how the community came together to raise money or otherwise help the child and the family. It’s a feel-good story that follows a particular kind of script. As important is picking the right child for the lead role in the drama.
In this case, the child was a cute, white, middle class girl. She was photogenic according to what our society deems good looking, even with her hair loss from chemotherapy. That is the basic profile of nearly every human interest story of this sort. It’s not just any kid that becomes the focus of a human interest story. There has to be hundreds of sick kids in the area that are some combination of less attractive, impoverished, and non-white. But rarely does a major news media outlet tell their stories of suffering and struggle, of overcoming the odds.
That is assuming they overcome the odds. No one reports on the poor kid who died because the parents couldn’t afford healthcare, who was slowly poisoned from lead toxicity because they lived in a poor industrial area, or some other sad demise. No one reports on the black kid who when sick the community didn’t come together because the community was majority white and the family had been excluded and isolated. What we don’t see in the news tells us as much as what we do see.
It reminds one of the studies done on news reporting of criminals. Black criminals are more likely to have their photographs shown than white criminals. This creates the perception that almost all crime is commited by non-whites. The news media teaches and trains us in thinking who deserves sympathy and who does not. The world is divided up as innocent well-off whites who must be saved and criminal poor blacks who must be condemned. News reporting is a morality tale about maintaining the social order.