Slaves to sensationalism

News? It’s such a joke these days.

There was a time when broadcast media reported on, analyzed, and facilitated critical thinking. There was a time when reporters were serious journalists covering social, political, economic, religious, world issues of significance.

There was a time when one wore the journalist badge proudly.

With the pressure of rolling something — anything — out every minute in our 24/7 news cycle, not only has the quality of news reports declined, but the idea of what constitutes news has changed as well.

I recently watched Rann, a Hindi movie exploring the difference (?) between news and sensationalism. What they portrayed wasn’t any different from what we’re bombarded with in the guise of news every morning, afternoon, and night.

This morning I received an e-mail from Ragan News Stand with the blurb:

Have you heard about Donna Simpson? She’s a 600-pound New Jersey woman who’s all over cable news today. Why? She’s trying to gain 400 pounds! And she’s funding this diet with donations from her Web site. That’s right; people are paying to watch her eat. Cable news, says the Web site Mediaite, loves this story, because these networks are lazy. “Here’s a story with a light reporting load, but lots of eyeball-grabbing images and talking head fodder,” Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher wrote. Consider the Donna Simpson story — light reporting, lots of eyeball-grabbing images and talking head fodder — the next time you draft a pitch … to cable news, at least.

Is that what we’re reducing “news” to? Striking visuals, zero investigative reporting, and superficial, irrelevant stories — almost like mini-soap operas to entertain, not educate, us?

When I interned at a local TV station a couple of years ago and questioned why we chose to do a story on “tight stockings and its effects on women’s health” instead of one on “breakthrough cancer research,” I was told that’s what the viewers want to see!

Really?

Is this the kind of fluff we’re willing to accept in lieu of real problems that need to be addressed? Have we resigned to the media moguls telling us what news should be? If not, why don’t we, the viewers, voice our disgust?

Or, are we ok being entertained by television news, because our assumption is that the “real” stuff will be covered by print outlets anyway?

The media is supposed to be a reflection of who we are as a society — is this what we have become? Slaves to sensationalism?

Now, don’t go about tweeting this. It might just show up on CNN’s ego-surfing coverage on your telly!

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Slaves to sensationalism

  1. Mansi,
    You ask super great questions in your blogs, for example, this note on sensationalism. But they are much deeper and touching philosophical then what meets eyes. Most of them cannot be completely answered or discussed in comments and replies due to lack of space here and lack of insights within us. There are so many dimensions to each and every answer. That being said, your questioning them and your intention and hope to get people intrigued is incredible and is working.

    • Thanks, Vikas. It helps to prod and nudge, I’ve observed. Just trying to figure out some answers for myself through this process and, hopefully, engaging other minds into thinking some more…

  2. This is the sad truth about the news. They also are very heavy handed in dealing with most issues focusing on the negative side rather than balanced reporting. I’ve stopped watching for the most part. I get my news from the newspaper & from the post of others on Twitter & Facebook. If something interests me I’ll research to try & find two views on the subject figuring the middle ground is probably the truth.

    Thanks for sharing…hugs,

    Bill

    • It surprises me that everyone I talk to says they don’t watch TV news anymore — then who does? Who are all these people that the media barons keep telling us want to watch the fluff?

  3. Mansi

    You are absolutely right.Present media is not the same media ,it was used to be.

    I wrote same matter to NDTV journalists on Social Connection.Their answer was as obvious.They have to show what most of the Indian people like spicy news, gossips.

    Media has become a business and if we want the same media back , we all should give preference to good stories like commenting on those articles on news websites . Like this , their opinion regarding Indian viewers will definitely change.

    In Japan , when i open any Indian news website ..I just found bad news as breaking news about India.Many Japanese people have asked me ..Don’t you think India has got so many problems ? Aren’t people educated or is it that educated people behave unexpectedly ? .
    And i have no answer to their questions.

    Lets see , when this era will change.Always hope for the best 🙂

    Regards
    Arvind Chugh
    http://www.zindagiilive.com/

    • Thanks for stopping by and for your comments, Arvind. It seems like the chicken and egg situation — media says it’s the people who demand “chatpati khabrein” and people say they can’t help but watch what’s on every single channel. How is it ever going to end? And if media, like everything else, is business then who will be the watchdog of our ever-corrupt societies? Hopefully the next generation with their quest for the truth will utilize social media to one-up traditional media — perhaps, that is the kind of citizen journalism we’re heading toward.

  4. Moe

    [There was a time when broadcast media reported on, analyzed, and facilitated critical thinking. There was a time when reporters were serious journalists covering social, political, economic, religious, world issues of significance.]

    So sadly sadly true. Until about 15 years ago, the networks saw their news divisions as ‘loss leaders’ and they were fiercely proud of the work produced; they considered investment in that quality to be money well spent. They bragged about their news prowess. And in those decades, they served us well.

    But that’s over. It’s all bread and circuses now.

    And yes, they are lazy. The leading story any hour probably gets big play based solely on the fact that video has been made available – probably emailed to them by a viewer with a cell phone. That’s news. And it’s absolutely passive on their part.

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