“There is no privacy that cannot be penetrated. No secret can be kept in a civilized world. Society is a masked ball where everyone hides his real character, then reveals it by hiding.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
<by the way … he wrote this in the 1800’s before twitter, facebook, internet or even cable tv>
“I confess … that any theories which I had formed from the newspaper reports were entirely erroneous.” – Sherlock Holmes
I will begin with the belief that 24 hour news is the bane & burden of this generation. Now. I opened with the two older quotes because news reporting has always had the ability to erroneously guide our thoughts and attitudes <but hopefully not our behavior>. It just that in today’s world … well … it is 24/7 download of ‘whatever they have’ to download to us.
Never has an entire population had too much & too little information … at exactly the same time.
We are barraged with soundbites of truths, semi truths, quasi truths and non-truths. So much so we either blindly grasp at any one of them and pass it along as something we believe as truth … or ignore them all remaining indifferent to what is happening around us and focusing on ourselves <our own little world>.
Basically I have a love/hate relationship with news these days.
And after thinking about it I believe it all comes down to 24 hours and supply & demand.
Not people’s demands but rather Time’s demands. 24 hour news means news people have to supply something over the 24 hours.
I didn’t say supply ‘news’ but rather ‘something.’ Earlier I called it “whatever they have.”
News is often forced to deliver incomplete, inaccurate, speculative, rehashed or simply pointless information because they have time to fill up <and silence doesn’t sell>.
That, my friends, is supply & demand at its worst.
Where demand is not driven by the user but rather by the distributor.
Think of it kind of like a retail store and how they decide to open and close their doors. Except in this case the store doesn’t give a shit about the quality of what they put on the shelves … they simply have decided to keep the store open 24/7 and put whatever they have available on the shelves on the off chance someone comes through the door.
As I further thought about the ‘supply’ issue I was reminded of a semi-fantastic book <it could have been half its words and been 100% fantastic> called It’s Not News, It’s Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass off Crap as News.
It was written by Fark.com founder Drew Curtis who delightfully skewers the media industry by examining the consistent patterns of the ‘go-to stories’ they use when there is a lack of any real news to report.
<note: I used to be an avid Fark visitor if only because they rehashed the real news and the absurd news in equal amounts with outstanding headlines>
The consistent patterns for everyone:
- Media Fearmongering contains news stories used to scare the audience. Examples are terrorists attacking, ‘what if’ weapon scenarios and the Avian Flu.
- Unpaid Placement Masquerading as Actual Article is about news stories which, whether intentionally or not, advertise a product or organization. An example is an article indicating that 90 percent of the ocean’s large fish are extinct—an unconfirmed statistic written by an author promoting a book about damage to the environment.
- Headline Contradicted by Actual Article are news stories which have misleading or contradictory headlines that are the opposite of what is implied by the article. An example is an article run by the Detroit Free Press titled “Asian Vehicles Rank Low in Survey” which later contained the statistic that 29 of the 31 cars that earned a top reliability rating were Japanese.
- Equal Time for Nutjobs is about articles published just to give an opposite side to a story, even if that opposite side has been proven false. Examples include 9/11 Truthers, the anti-vaccination movement and climate change.
- The Out-of-Context Celebrity Comment relates to articles which give a disproportionate amount of attention to a comment made by a celebrity, like Brad Pitt’s position on stem cell research or the Dixie Chicks’ position on the Iraq War.
- Seasonal Articles focuses on recurring articles published the same time every year. An example is AAA reports related to increases in traffic during the Christmas holidays.
- Media Fatigue refers to stories examined and exhausted and continuously rehashed past their relevance. Examples would include the September 11 attacks or the Benghazi embassy and pretty much any JayZ/Beyonce or Michael Jackson controversy.
- Lesser Media Space Fillers are non-categorical articles which consistently reappear. Examples include the coverage of missing white women, random road rage and extreme weather in obscure places.
In most cases we are being bombarded with the obscure and the random to the point where it becomes difficult to believe these things aren’t happening everywhere <despite the fact it is one event in one place at one time in some time frame longer than a month or two>.
And this doesn’t count the ‘unbiased’ outlets spewing skewed information about key topics.
What this all translates to is that we “the people” certainly understand philosophically what impartial is but we just can’t seem to find it in the media.
But how do we save ourselves from the idiot box and the idiots pushing stupidity under the guise of news experts.
There are a gazillion sources and opinions and we have countless options to choose from <which, by the way, is actually a good reflection of a democracy working at its best> … but who has time to sift their way through all that stuff?
Which then leads me to what we see and hear in the news and relevance.
It seems to me that journalists have a responsibility to spread news as quickly as possible to educate the public on important events.
But … watching the American 24 hour television news cycle, it is as though the country had been occupied by an army of Islamist radicals, right wing <or left wing> nutjobs and never ending local disasters.
No wonder it feels like the apocalypse is upon us.
Here is a truth.
24 hour news is derailing the sense and composure of America.
I would argue 24 hour news is derailing the sense and composure of the world.
The media likes to cash in disaster and bad news … even if it is simply some isolated local event … which just stirs up people.
The 24 hour news cycle has caused so much misinformation or partial information to be put out in front of the public it can make you crazy if you try and keep up. They spout ‘what they have’ out of fear of not being the first to report often before even a cursory fact check and quite often in spite of a fact check.
Unfortunately … whether we like to think of ourselves this way or not … we people … if a lie or incorrect or distorted “fact” is repeated often enough many begin to believe it.
What this really means is that if you use any one of the 24 hour news sources as your sole source of knowledge then you are not only doing yourself a great disservice but you are getting screwed.
Screwed in what information you receive.
Screwed up in your head.
At its best … the 24 hour news cycle can merely put a topic out there and leave it for the public to decide its importance or relevance.
At its worst … the 24 hour news cycle can hammer home falsehoods until they are believed and inevitably inform opinions and even create them for some people.
Interestingly … I can draw on Sherlock Holmes <again> to state our dilemma as normal every day schmucks <like me> trying to discern real news and truth:
“It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner should be used rather for the sifting of details than for the acquiring of fresh evidence. The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete and of such personal importance to so many people, that we are suffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact–of absolute undeniable fact–from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Then, having established ourselves upon this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the whole mystery turns.” – Sherlock Holmes <silver blaze>
Whew. “The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact–of absolute undeniable fact–from the embellishments of theorists and reporters.”
Geez. Did Sherlock have 24 hour news cable tv? This is exactly the challenge we face day in and day out <actually 24/7 with news>.
Oddly … I remember how delighted we were initially over how great it was to have so much news, entertainment and information.
Experts called it news “choice, convenience and control” and suggested the benefit to us was that nothing would be missed.
But instead of news they have ended up giving us brief bursts of updates.
Every 15 minutes they seem to try and give us an update of the news.
And in between they’re trying to figure out ways to keep you watching.
So they’ll do reported pieces.
They’ll do a lot of interviews.
There are a lot of talk shows.
And there is a lot of things that we would classify as kind of pulpy, quasi-tabloid, quasi-celebrity news.
Oh. That may be bad … but this is the worst.
They will also do anything that implies we are simply waiting for the next great crisis.
Roman emperors used to often say ‘If you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses.’
Frankly … news today is not really about news … it is more about crafting communications by aligning ‘impact words’ with ‘impact images’ to impact the people watching.
I guess I will ask the real question.
Do we really require 24-hour news channels?
Do we really need the 100 odd some of them spewing the same breaking news from dawn to dusk.
In the past all the national and international news could be summed up in prime time news bulletins.
The world cannot have changed so much in the last 15 years that the quantum of really important news has suddenly multiplied a zillion times that we now require minute-by-minute coverage to get through it.
Test it if you want. Just keep switching on the TV at different times of the day and you’ll find that a lead news item that breaks in the morning usually keeps getting repeated right into the afternoon and sometimes well into the evening.
This made me think about what we did need.
And, no, this is not about that tired subject of “short attention span people.’
So let me digress for a minute and share an idea.
- something about 20 minutes.
20 minute workouts.
20 minutes meals.
20 minute conversations <usually fun & good>.
20 minute meetings <usually never happens>.
20 minute newspapers.
20 minute newspaper.
Best selling paper in France.
The big idea?
It matches up with the consumer. Provides value <news> in a manageable time <20 minutes>.
As I look around me (a newspaper lover myself) and I look at decreasing readership I look at this 20 minute concept as an awesome concept (as a salvation concept).
Just as USAToday came in and redefined the newspaper market <traditional format with nontraditional delivery of the news> I believe something like 20Minutes could redefine the market again.
I choose USAToday because of all the papers I know they would be the one who could most likely pull it off.
So what if USAToday became USAToday 20. Today in 20 minutes. Tighten up the editorial and the format and make it the quick easy news read.
If they hired me to tell them what to do that is what I would tell them.
They aren’t paying me … and I am still gonna tell them what to do.
Is it a radical departure from who they are and what they stand for? Nope. They have always been about sound bite news delivered in entertaining style. Just tighten it up and they become the super sound bite news in an entertaining style.
Shorter and just as engaging.
People will pick it up in droves.
Will some people bitch? Sure. Of course they will.
They did when USAToday came on the scene scoffing at their ‘amateurishness’ and such (and look how successful they ended up being).
Take your lumps USAToday.
Change the game again.
Why do it?
In 2010, for the third year since 2007, the daily newspaper daily called 20 Minutes is the best-read newspaper in France.
The paper has over 2,675,000 daily readers beating all paid papers. (data from Epiq/Audipresse)
This paper beats even the awesome sports paper L’Equipe (which has about 2.3 million readers).
Sorry. I digressed.
I imagine my real point is that whether we discuss 20 minutes or 2 minutes or 20 hours … people DO desire news, WILL consume news and SHOULD get news.
But news should be news … and not entertainment.
And we really <really> don’t need it 24/7.
The talking heads. The pundits.
They are dangerous. To society, to us … to civilization as we know it.
Anybody who considers Glen Beck, O’ Reilly, Limbaugh, Maher or any of these opinionated <but seemingly smart people> as a true news source … is simply nuts or hasn’t done any homework.
We simply have all of these sources pandering to various fringe groups who are not a microcosm of the whole country but rather a minority voice which the news manipulators have elected as ‘stuff that will create rating points.”
These talking head ‘experts’ are exploiting news to expound upon their personal views on immigration, healthcare and a seemingly nonstop fueling of hatred of Islam.
People become aggressively opinionated based on what really are entertainment shows rather than legitimate news sources. They take ‘opinions’ and make them ‘unequivocal truths.’
This is opinion peddling at its worst.
Which leads me to snarkiness.
Snarkiness is the key component to today’s talking head experts.
They seize upon the minutiae and nuance and raise it to an absurd level.
About what I mean by ‘snarkiness’:
(a.) insulting someone or some group in a nasty, heckling way. It is a variant of the ad hominem fallacy because it’s a personal attack instead of a scrutiny of the substance of an argument
(b.) a knowing abuse that appeals to the prejudice or preconceptions of others. The coded insult or innuendo involves slyly drawing attention to an understanding shared by others of a similar ilk. Simply put, an underhanded reference is being made.
(c.) tinged with humour, although the humour is never very funny and is often quite pathetic. It’s a form of “teasing” and “rug-pulling”, as Denby puts it. There may be enough humour, however, to allow an attacker to deflect blame. If the victim gets too angry, that person can be dismissed as a humourless and overly sensitive mope who takes things too seriously.
<source: Snark by David Denby>
As Denby correctly points out, snarkiness tends to be a form of intellectual laziness and conformity. Snarks tend to use hackneyed terms and expressions. The snarky comment lacks originality and imagination. Old sayings and jokes are recycled. The language used is neither well crafted nor clever. Thus, an adversary is put on the defensive by an attacker who expends the minimum amount of effort. If someone lacks knowledge or expertise, they can attack the adversary to discredit their views while diverting attention away from their own inadequacies. Thus, snarky comments can be a form of evasion. Is it any wonder that snarkiness is a popular technique among lazy pundits who can’t bother keeping abreast of their area of supposed expertise? This inherent laziness also means that the personal attacks tend to pick on any available vulnerability.
As Denby puts it: [Snarkiness] seizes on any vulnerability or weakness it can find—a slip of the tongue, a sentence not quite up-to-date, a bit of flab, an exposed boob, a blotch, a blemish, a wrinkle, an open fly, an open mouth, a closed mouth. It exploits—slyly, teasingly—race and gender prejudice. When there are no vulnerabilities, it makes them up.
All of this tends to reinforce conformity and mediocrity. Snarkiness is a characteristic of the less capable, although Denby makes a distinction between high-brow and low-brow snarkiness based on how cultured the attack is.
I included this because snarkiness seems to be mandatory to be successful in today’s 24 hour news world. Next time you listen to your favorite ‘expert’ maybe take a step back and assess their level of ‘snarkiness.’
All that said.
The big close.
Here is where now that I have skewered the news media I will shift to us <the viewers>.
- Not caring about knowing everything as soon as it happens
- Question everything, believe nothing
Propaganda style reporting, sensational headlines, adrenaline pumping hyperbole, speculating panels of experts, distortion of facts happen all the time … and not only can we ignore it … but we can also question it.
Me? personally I have two pet peeves.
- Equal Time for Nutjobs. It’s funny when you talk about people not believing in moon landings, or who think an alien crash-landed somewhere or who believe that there was once an ancient Mediterranean civilization in Florida. It’s another thing entirely when people start to believe that denying the Holocaust is a valid opinion.
- <a derivative of nutjobs> Using a minority point of view for scaremongering. Its not funny when someone begins encouraging kids to not be vaccinated. Its not funny when the wacky minority <less than 2% of ‘experts’> who try and stall efforts to address climate change get airtime and headlines <but we can live with that> … but when something affects our health or security? That seems crazy.
<I include a letter to help make my point>
Your article “Fifteen Years After Autism Panic, a Plague of Measles Erupts” (page one, July 20) illustrates the very serious concern for the health and welfare of people when misinformation is dispensed.
As a public-health nurse, I administered the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and was confronted by concerns from parents regarding the relationship of MMR vaccine and autism. Many parents got their false information from the media, including newspapers and television, as well as the Internet, and convincing them that the information was wrong wasn’t easy.
The media have tremendous power in people’s lives and has a responsibility to be unbiased and accurate. Furthermore, people who have never seen the devastating effects of these diseases become complacent about being immunized until outbreaks occur.
Mary Ann Putnam, R.N.
24 hour news is not going away. And I do not really sense that any of them are planning on taking the responsibility high road any time soon.
So think about this.
The Fark guy was asked once: If you had to limit your information intake to less than 30 minutes a day (excluding email), what would you consume/read/watch?
Nothing. I’d wait until my friends asked me “did you see that?” and then say “no, why do you ask?” and see if their response is interesting. You can always catch up later. Oftentimes when news breaks it’s hours or days before anyone knows what actually happened. Wait until next week for the summary if it’s that important.
Take two weeks off. Don’t watch any news, don’t read any news, don’t listen to any radio talk shows. Then tune back in. Did you miss anything? Nope. It’s the same old crap, different days. That’s what I’m talking about in my book — the media patterns that are used to fill space. It’s 95% or more of the content of any given news show.
Those that provide the news must come up with words, subjects, interviews, etc. to fill 24 hours and, let’s face it folks, not that much changes from day to day … with the exception of some truly breaking news.
And while 24 hours news has a bad perception issue <a PewResearch study revealed a steady decline in peoples’ belief that news media “gets the facts straight” and as of 2009, this number was at a staggeringly low 29 percent> … that fact it is not slowing them down any. The full display of facts continues to be obscured and random events become hyped to the point they appear typical.
So it is up to us … we the people.
We should not treat news as entertainment … its news for gods sake.
But I imagine if you are required to have ‘news’ 24 hours a day … and sometimes there is no real news … you have to entertain.
“Bring in the clowns I say.” - Me.