You remember “news”, don’t you? Every evening, a somber-faced reporter would come into your living room, and deliver the serious stories of the day. There was the body count from the Vietnam War, or the Watergate scandal. From an earlier era, the family might gather around the radio to hear the BBC report with the latest from the war on London. We’d hear reports of protests, politicians debating bills, breathless accounts from foreign correspondence.
Now, we get updates on celebrity baby names and how Twinkies are making a comeback.
Do Americans just not care about real news anymore? Is it too hard to digest what is happening on foreign soil and how it affects our lives, or to try and figure out what Obamacare is really about? Even Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass the bill before we could figure out what it said. Or is it that we’d rather be entertained than informed? Are the daily lives of most Americans so fraught with worries over the mortgage, gas prices and kids’ homework that we simply don’t want to know about a Syrian priest being killed? Is the news too out-of-context, too unreal?
Just today, the major morning news programs focused on the following: the “royal baby watch”, an actress joining a daytime talk show cast, the untimely death of a young television star, and the top-rated ugly sweater from The Cosby Show, according to an online poll. Yes, there was talk about the Snowden case, the Zimmerman verdict and its racial implications, and the Asiana crash, but one gets the feeling these are almost afterthoughts.
We seemed to have decided, as a nation, that “infotainment” is more important to us than news. Daniel Hallin puts it this way:
They are not news shows that borrow conventions from entertainment television, but the other way around: entertainment programs that borrow the aura of news. The forms and the “look” are news– the opening sequences frequently feature typewriter keys and newsroom-like sets with monitors in the background. The content, however, has little of the substance of journalism; above all, little about public affairs.
What we end up with is a nation that is all caught up on the comings-and-goings of the Kardashians, but not the slightest idea what’s happening with North Korea. Honey Boo Boo is a hit, but nobody wants to hear about boring stuff like how the Farm Bill affects food stamps affects taxes affects your paycheck. Just like junk food, we have junk TV. And America, we are none the healthier, smarter, or better informed for it.