News is supposed to be a report of recent events and previously unknown information. Inherent within this definition is a code of ethics, an understanding that it is the duty of the news media to present an accurate account of the day’s events–to be ‘fair and balanced.’ The very notion of a news ‘industry’ is troubling. An industry is defined as systematic labour used for the creation of something of value. In this application, the comparison is becoming more and more apt, with negative results. The hope might be that this ‘value’ is an informed public, however it is increasingly a matter of dollars and cents.
The public would say that it wants the truth, and they mostly do get it. However, this truth is often lacking in insight. News organizations have come to rely more on press releases than investigative journalism. How much truth can be gleaned from official ‘leaks,’ etc. In addition, with the rise of 24-hour news nets, the need for filler becomes terribly important. This means more coverage of entertainment, more political punditry, celebrity interviews. There is a lot more fluff.
It is far more amusing (and thus watchable) to tune into entertainment under the guise of news. How informed are watchers of television news? Learning about the making of ‘Lord of the Rings’ might be interesting, but is not particularly enlightening. Watching ’embedded reporters’ tool around Iraq is not enlightening either, but can make for thrilling television. If the viewer is lucky, someone will get maimed or even killed live on the air! Media moguls know this. The lion’s share of North American media is controlled by a handful of enormous corporations, whose only responsibility is to their shareholders.
We know that most of the news on television is crap (see Bennifer, etc.), yet we watch it all the time. Public confidence in the media has been slipping for decades, to its present level of 36%; however it’s no secret that interest in news media has skyrocketed. Why do North Americans love CNN, FoxNews (and others like them) so much if we have less and less faith in their legitimacy? The news media’s low marks are not so difficult to explain, but society’s increased hunger for 24-7 news is not so easy to pin down.
I think that for most, ‘tuning-in’ is really about ‘tuning-out.’ With the flick of a switch we can be shown what’s ‘important,’ and told what to think. Nobody likes to be ignorant of current events, but not everyone is willing to actually think about them and ask the tough questions. That’s where CNN (self proclaimed “America’s most trusted news source”) comes in. They can think for you. They can broadcast patriotic fluff all day long (and they do), knowing full well that their viewership will eat it up. We all have fears about things like war, and consequently we like to be reassured that everything’s alright or at least that it will be soon. People will seek out things that make them feel safe.
Society has (declining) faith that it is receiving unbiased accounts of important events. CNN capitalizes on this faith. They manufacture a product under the brand name ‘News,’ and it’s a best-seller. Shame on them.