Why is the News Mostly Junk?

In the wake of the Anna Nicole Smith “news” it’s
a fair question to ask why the news is so laden with junk.

“What’s happened to the media in the U.S.?” a colleague from Europe recently asked me. “Why is so much fluff and junk passed off as news?”

He then recounted turning to CNN where he got a heavy dose of Anna Nicole Smith.
” What’s news about this?” he asked.

Shortly after, I was in a group conversation that turned to the decline in standards in local news. A news producer said he had told his wife that even as low as news standards have fallen, he doubted the local news shows would lead with the Anna Nicole Smith story. It had nothing to do with local news in Nashville. To his frustrated amazement, however, two local stations led with the Smith story.

Recently as a snow storm threatened Nashville, we turned to the local morning TV weather to get an update. We saw a police chase on an interstate. But it wasn’t a local highway, it was a police chase in Baltimore. The young newscaster explained it was news because it had been going on for such a long time. That he had to explain why it was “news” was revealing. Is news news if you have to tell the audience why? Why does a police chase in Baltimore merit airtime in Nashville whether it continues for 10 minutes or an hour?

This isn’t harmless.Frank Rich wrote a column on Feb. 25, in which he notes public fascination with Anna Nicole. He compares our current disinterest in stories about a resurgent Queda and our media diversions to the circumstances leading up to 9/11 and asks, “Haven’t we been here before?”

Rich points to the fascination of the news media in the summer of 2001 with “a 24/7 buffet of Gary Condit and shark attacks.” Abetted by the media the U.S. public seems as distracted with the frivolous now as then.

In an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor, Drew Curtis says it’s the 24-hour news cycle, the drive for profit, the frantic quest for ratings and the capability we have to tailor our news to our individual interests using digital media. Curtis says, “It’s looking more and more as though the age of impartial journalism was a temporary blip in history whose reign ended a few years ago when the Internet turned news consumption from all-inclusive (per newspaper) to a la carte (per story).

Curtis offers an intriguing solution: divide news channels into two, one to carry the fluff, the other real news. Put revenues from both into the same account. Until that happens, he says, consumers will have to adjust to journalistic standards being thrown out the window and mass media outlets should cover real news or give up all pretenses.

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