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By Brenda Miller, columnist

Nothing draws an audience like a public scandal, and no one knows this better than the media.  No one exploits this fact more, either.

Turn on the news and you’ll find headlines exaggerating an already dramatic disaster, event, or the latest misstep of some public figure.  Justin Bieber reportedly smoked weed?  Better make it one of the top stories.

The evening news is not the proper venue for the details of the private lives of celebrities.  A brief blurb is one thing, but when it comes to details, such stories are better suited for tabloids.

Even when the headlines are relevant and important, the stories are infused with unnecessary drama and are repeated to an extreme degree.

How many times in the past month have you heard the phrase “fiscal cliff?”  The economic crisis is appropriately a central focus for many people, but when the media adds wood to an already blazing fire, it can cause more harm than good.

The coverage of tragedies is the most disappointing.  Whenever there is a shooting, there is an immediate jump to cast blame.  People want to know where to point the finger and understandably want justice, but the reporting glamorizes the situation and the shooter is rewarded with  infamy.

Naming the perpetrator is one thing, but digging into their lives and hyping them up so everyone knows who they are is the wrong way to go about reporting.  When the perpetrator is so glorified, other sick, twisted people are prompted to do something similar or worse to achieve the same infamy.

To emphasize the drama of the situation even more, reporters will interview anyone even remotely related to the story.

That was what got to me most about the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I don’t care what permissions were obtained, interviewing children on national television about a traumatic event they just experienced is not in any way acceptable.  And asking grieving parents how they felt when they received the news of their child’s death is no more appropriate.

As easy as it is to blame sensationalist media, the core of the problem is the public.  The media does what it knows will attract an audience.  And as long as people crave drama, celebrity gossip, and scapegoats, news sources will happily deliver.

I’m not saying the news is useless.  It is vital to be informed on current events.  But between commercials, repeats of previous reports, and public appeal stories, it seems that only a small fraction of an hour of news is actually news.

We don’t have to succumb to drama mongering, nor should we.  Take the news with a grain of salt.

Understand that your source may be biased.  Anyone who watches Fox News can see that.  Once you weed your way through the blogs and rumors, the internet has many valuable sources of reliable, straightforward news right at our fingertips.

Exaggeration has no place in the news.  Demand more.  The media can do better than melodrama and sensationalism.  And it starts with us.