Associate Professor Bala A. Musa proclaims, “the era of factual hard news is behind us.” This statement may be disheartening to some of today’s consumers. For others, it comes as no surprise and an inevitable phase of the business. In “News as Infotainment: Industry and Audience Trends,” Musa details the struggle of journalists balancing three components that form the foundational pillars of the field: public interest, profit and professionalism. It is not a hard guess as to which components are easily shoved aside as the attention span decreases and the Internet continues to grow at lightning speed.
I found it worthy of note that both Musa’s article and Markus Prior’s “News vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge” were written a full eight years ago. Today, it is clear the epidemic of media choice has become widespread to the extent it is hard to make sense of what the public wants, needs or even who the public is at all.
Musa writes that today’s consumers gravitate toward “the bizarre, the sensational and the sleazy.” On a slow news day, journalists on a tight deadline may give in to temptation of an unethical quick fix and create their own story or simply twist a current story to meet the public’s craving. In “Journalists Walk a Fine Line When They Act,” Diana Marszalek points out a rather unsettling reality that journalists are slipping into acting roles and raising a few eyebrows about where the line of credibility should be drawn.
My favorite quote from the article was from attorney Steve Dickstein who argues that journalists shouldn’t be criticized for landing acting gigs. “It’s silly to be sanctimonious in a brothel,” he says. Well, when you put it that way…
We are deep in the trenches of a digital era where lies and embellishments can be created in a single second with the swipe of a keyboard. Journalists are under pressure to be the most credible megaphone out of the million voices screaming from Internet soapboxes. In this increasingly difficult fight for credibility and professionalism, journalists may lose readers and money. Obviously, in an ideal world people would consume the news they enjoy and the news they need all in one package and journalists would be praised for being expert jugglers of profit and social responsibility.
However, as Johanna Cleary’s study “The Family Business: Entertainment Products and the Network Morning News Shows” reveals, large news corporations are hungry for profit and power and are aware that without either of these compensations survival is unlikely. Cleary conveys that the public is unaware of what large chunk of their news is fueled by a desire for product promotion and ratings. In response to this observation, Prior argues that we should not view today’s consumers as dumb but rather understand that they are simply motivated to watch what interests them.
Growing up, my only experience with political knowledge was dinner table venting sessions from my parents paired with the dramatic, sleazy television advertisements where candidates accused each other of scandal, lies and shady dealings. Prior confirms my experience by saying that many people’s political views are shaped through commercial intake.
Prior’s alerts us that as media hand out more choices with the hopes of keeping audiences intrigued, the result is people isolating themselves into tiny bubbles full of self-interest and no way to consume outside essential knowledge. He states, “even if a consensus emerged to reduce media choice for the public good, it would still be technically impossible, even temporarily, to put the genie back in the bottle.” So, how do we control this genie we have released into the wild?
My answer relates to nearly all the readings we have discussed in class. The secret to journalism lies in that delicate art of producing relevant, important information through a creative, accessible narrative. The information selection process is what an intelligent reporter gathers from the many voices of the public and through astute, objective observation.
Scandal, crime and celebrities will continue to dazzle audiences (myself included), boost ratings and produce profit. However, I think it takes a good journalist to risk the ratings and fanfare and do the extra work to produce quality work that both entertains and furthers understanding. Hopefully, profit will still be a result. It is not an easy task but I believe it is definitely a reachable goal for this profession.