THE BLOG

Hidden Beneath the Rubble of the Syrian Conflict: What Stories Do We Miss?

09/18/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Nov 18, 2013

Last year, I introduced the "Blog Blog Project," which features voices, opinions, and analysis from students in my Media and Politics class. This is the first blog of the semester, voted as the top blog from her peers. It comes from UD junior Rachel Thompson, who is majoring in Communication and Political Science. As we have been following the Syrian conflict closely, Rachel examines how the news has been so focused on Syria that it might be ignoring other issues.

Since I am required to read the news for this class, my inbox has been inundated with more than 40 articles analyzing, informing, and inspecting the Syrian conflict over the past week. The daily updates for The New York Times' Top News, World, U.S., and Politics over last week have included approximately 100 articles, about 40 percent of which deal with the Syrian issue in some way or form. With all this analysis, I began to wonder if journalists were over-analyzing the Syrian conflict. There is only so much to speculate before the articles become redundant, right?

Now don't get me wrong -- Syria is obviously a serious conflict that will undoubtedly impact the course of many nations in the upcoming weeks and possibly years. The safety of both Syrian citizens and American soldiers (in addition to many others) are on the line. Stories like this, which involve countless players, are constantly changing and developing, making it relatively easy to write hundreds of articles on the same subject, while still being informative and unique. The constant updates and changing status of the Syrian conflict are certainly more exciting than the arguably mundane Congressional disputes over immigration laws or unemployment numbers. Theoretically, these Syrian stories would entice more readers to pay attention to the news, as well as educate a larger audience on current events. So the more news about Syria the better, right?

Maybe. But I can't help but wonder: What stories are we missing?

What happened to the immigration debates or the NSA controversies? It seems as though the rest of the world has been shut down as we wait eagerly to catch word of even a speculation of a new development regarding Syria. In my mind, the news media seem to be saying, "This is, by far, the most important issue to our audience." But is this really how our nation's representatives and office holders feel? What about average citizens? Did the rest of the conflicts and controversies and debates just disappear indefinitely? There are millions of undocumented people in America right now, and for a few moments earlier this year, it seemed as though there would be a resolution on immigration -- or at least an attempt at one -- in the near future. However, as I browse the top recent news articles, only three are related to immigration. One of them even seemed to be highlighting the dramatic pause in the immigration debate. It is as if every other issue fell off the face of the planet and now only Syria remains. But that is not reality, is it?

Millions of illegal immigrants are stranded, waiting to see whether they will have an opportunity to become citizens, or whether the system will essentially force them out. Or maybe, it will simply remain the same. What about the citizens in states that border Mexico who are affected by those who choose to illegally enter the country and the states who are burdened by this access of people for whom they collect no taxes from? Do all of these issues come to a stop because of the conflict in Syria?

Take another issue: the unemployment rate. Many Americans are struggling to feed their families, living off of unemployment checks and food stamps. What about these individuals? Do their daily struggles refrain until the Syrian conflict is resolved? The obvious answer to this question is no. So why aren't these other issues being readily discussed in the news media?

Our class readings and discussions have brought to light that conflict is one of the major criteria for newsworthiness in U.S. news. As a result of this emphasis on conflict -- as well as timeliness and consequence -- major societal problems are easily overlooked in favor of more dramatic stories and events. The issues of immigration and unemployment have been continuous, ongoing problems -- not only in the past few months, but for years. There have always been different perspectives and proposals for how to fix systems such as these, and since we don't live in a utopia, there will always be a need for improvement.

But as a result of news routines like gatekeeping and newsworthiness, we see more and more coverage of conflict and drama, while other important issues barely get covered. Because compared to the drama and debates surrounding the Syrian conflict, immigration and unemployment just seem plain boring. So what are the consequences of relentlessly highlighting conflict and drama? If you ask me, I believe we are living in a world where we are not as educated as we could be, one where stories simply slip through the gates -- so to speak -- leaving us ignorant and unaware, drowning amidst stories of suffering and strife.

--Rachel Thompson, University of Delaware