June 26, 2008

The Problem Here Is…

Posted in Pro-seminar assignments at 4:51 pm by shhville

1. Pillow talk lands Chinese officials in jail
2. NBC settles ‘Dateline’ lawsuit
3. Crocodile invited into Aussie pub
4. Beck: What Conservatives Believe (Commentary: Obama no, McCain maybe)
5. Kid Rock jokes: ‘Steal everything’
6. Saving Chicago’s young black men
7. Arrests in child sex rings
8. Internet eyes domain names auction
9. Cops bust alleged mobile brothel
10. ‘Sesame Street’ designer, Kermit Love, dies at 91

At nine o’clock this morning, these were the top ten most-viewed stories on CNN.com. The list includes stories about tattling Chinese mistresses, a stretch limousine/van/whore house, a two-foot crocodile that wandered into a bar in Australia and a crackdown on pedophilia rings. North Korea, Iraq, and Zimbabwe, all on the front page of the website, didn’t make the cut. The list presents a sobering reflection of public media appetite which, when presented with every possible temptation, leans toward the grotesque, the weird, the opinionated, and the celebrity. And where the appetite goes, the advertisers must follow. Networks and newspapers live or die by the viewers and subsequent advertising they can attract. That is part of the reason why newspapers across the country are undergoing layoffs while quick, accessible, short-attention-span-friendly websites are thriving.

The biggest problem with the news industry today is that it has evolved into a medusa with a thousand heads all screaming for our attention. Options are everywhere and as we get overwhelmed we rely increasingly on filters that are provided for us (such as the CNN top ten, splashy headlines, and websites like Boing Boing and 3quarksdaily) rather than our own beleaguered internal filters. We’re like birds, attracted to shiny things. As much as we would like to claim equal interest in complex, relevant stories, most of us find ourselves listing in the direction of the twins who accidentally married (since debunked) and the cannibal family who ate their son alive (sadly, not debunked) while the state budget committee updates and the numbing coverage of suicide bombers and atrocities in Iraq go unread. The celebrity gossip machine is a multi-million-dollar industry for a reason.

These days, news is only news if the audience says it is. It is no longer the publication that decides, it is our appetite for diversion. Impartiality is less valued than it once was, especially in the climate of an important national election. Talking heads such as Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly satisfy our hunger for both consensus and righteous indignation, much to the chagrin of more traditional journalists like Tom Brokaw. The problem with handing the public the responsibility of determining what is and is not newsworthy is that, like any herd, we are primitive and unreliable in our groupthink.

In the face of all this, the professional journalist (hopefully) forges on amid despair that there may be no point in writing thoughtful, impartial news items if few are willing to read them.

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2 Comments »

  1. angelia said,

    Elke, this is a great post. I think it really does make us stop and think about how we handle diversion/entertainment versus hard news, news people NEED to know. Granted the old formula for news did have a certain “We Know What Is Good For You” attitude. But newspapers had comics and feature stories and sports stories too. This splintering of the news, with so many outlets and so many niches, does mean you can just go read sports, read comics or read fashion and remain ignorant of the facts of the day — the facts that might change your life. But do not despair. The numbers show people ARE reading newspapers, they’re just reading them more online. Hyper local papers are thriving. TV news is still big business — even though you have to watch a lot of Viagra ads don’t you?
    What are the sites that you go to every day/ How do you get your news — and I confess to watching Jon Stewart religiouisly

  2. angelia said,

    It would be even better if I could SPELL religious


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