I never realized what a junk news channel CNN has become until I was home again. Grandma is the news junkie, constantly tuned to the network when the hearings aren’t being aired on C-SPAN. At Christmas, I could already tell how much market research was dictating content: DL Hugley was now hosting a dumbed down copy of the Daily Show. And then this Sunday, as I sat eating breakfast, I saw almost no real news in the span of an hour. I walked in about the time New Kids on the Block looking so desperate were preparing, I suppose for yet another reunion tour. Fluff. There was a short mention on the Obama family touring around Paris during their recent visit to France. More fluff. The television was thankfully muted by the time a feature on “The World’s Fittest Men” appeared. It all ended in a cut-a-way from a dimpled, smirking reporting who was asking audiences to stay tuned after the commercial for more information on the severe storms predicted out West. And as they pulled away on Time Square, Gwen Stefani’s “What Are You Waiting For?” played and the lyrics “take a chance you stupid Ho” were so perfectly clear before the fadeout and commercial. How appropriate!
It has been more than 30 years since one of my all-time favorite movies, Network, was released. And yet, television networks nowadays mirror exactly what we were warned against, if not more so. Sidney Lumet’s film centered around the new generation of network management and the long protected news bureaus, which had always been losing money, were forced to start holding their own. The sanctity of the information was no longer priority, but rather, became a question of what people might want. James L. Brooks’s Broadcast News (1987) was another movie driving home that point.
A lot of talk about media consumption has lately focused on the perils of the newspaper industry. Funny, I would have thought a newspaper, although not as immediate in information, to be a satisfying alternative to the entertainment-driven dreck of the 24 hours news networks (including the FOX network, which just pans to its audiences in a different way). Even on-line content is driven by marketing such as highlighting the most popular stories of the day (those that have been forwarded by email most). Although newspapers sell ad space, they have more concern for spatial limits – “all the news that fit to print”. National newspapers, at least, (since the small, local papers usually do contain excessive fluff) could still be the savior of hard news. The problem is financing their survival.