Eric Karjaluoto of ideasonideas.com wrote an interesting essay about how in the American media there is no longer a distinction between entertainment and news. Eric says,
“…to the American media, news and entertainment, or even larger yet, fact and fiction, were no longer separate entities. The two had collided and left a free-for-all, in which both credible journalism and tabloid fodder were mixing to create something much more muddy and unclear. In this new mix, celebrity happenings were just as likely to headline American news programs, as national disasters were to consume entertainment programs.”
I think the first time I realized this was during the Tonya Harding scandal. The media milked that story until the public’s patience and appetite for the story was completely drained. The same thing happened with O.J. Simpson. And Columbine. 9-11. Hurricane Katrina. Time after time it seems that legitimate news stories morph into something else. It really doesn’t matter if it is a celebrity wedding or a murder suicide. It is all exploited with the same amount of shock and awe tactics that continues to plague TV news. It sickens me, and I really hate watching the news when it takes on this form.
Fortunately this isn’t the only form the news takes, however. I do agree that the media exploits stories, but I think this is a separate problem from simply confusing entertainment with news. What Eric fails to recognize is that the media (in terms of news) is dramatically changing (or has changed). There are so many different places that you can get the news that the “shock” method is no longer what is working. The most successful news outlets all have one thing in common and it isn’t voyeurism. The successful news outlets all present the stories through a personality that is allowed to speak in a human voice. The Daily Show, Bill O’Reilly, talk radio, and blogs are all attracting huge audiences while the traditional “empty suit” formats are dying (Dan Rather, newspapers, etc.). With so many different voices giving you the same news, the audience is given a choice about what flavor they want to take their news in. The people are all choosing the same thing: they prefer to get their news told to them in a human voice. They want to be entertained while they get their news. I actually think this is a good thing because it gives me an alternative to exploitation. That voice could be from a partisan blogger, a political comedian, a patriot, pretty much any personality you want. It is news, yes, but it is also entertainment. That is why I don’t see the danger of Eric’s concluding thought where he says,
“I refuse to allow news to become entertainment.”
Is it really wrong to be entertained while you receive the news? I don’t think so. The real enemy is exploitation of a story, not the entertainment value of news. I also find it hard to believe that this is a pattern found only in the American media. My guess is that the trend is global, but having never seen or heard news outside the U.S. I really don’t know.