Friday, March 4, 2011

Slam of the Media From an Unexpected Source

This is what someone recently said about the international media outlet Al-Jazeera:

“You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."

Who said this?  None other than former First Lady/one-time Senator/former front-running presidential candidate/current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  According to her, we are losing an international "information war" to outlets like Al-Jazeera.  I have heard a lot of the same criticisms of American media over the years, I have voiced those same criticisms, but never has one come from such a powerful, high-ranking source in the government. 

This is a very hard problem to fix.  A long time ago (around 1950s to the 1970s), the businesses that ran the major networks looked at the news as a "loss leader".  What that basically means, is that they looked to their programs (like Beverly Hillbillies, All in the Family, etc.) to provide the profits, while the news was allowed to run at a loss.  This allowed our news programs to report on more issues of genuine importance, even if people didn't find them especially entertaining. 

Somewhere along the way, media companies started to believe that their news organizations should start to carry their weight, and become profit centers as well.  So, "hard news" (foreign affairs, politics, etc.) started to become deemphasized, and "soft news" (lifestyle, Hollywood celebrities, beauty and health, etc.) saw more and more time on the news.  It has steadily gotten worse and worse over time, to the point where the average American TV watcher is almost zombie-like, and has a terribly poor grasp of the issues. 

I know people, some of whom I care about, whose sole outlet of news and information is the nightly news on television, or cable news like CNN and Fox.  Those same people, are usually the most ignorant that you will ever meet.  For example, we are all afraid nowadays with the rising oil prices, the resultant inflation of essential goods, etc.  The news on television does talk about these things, but it usually only gives us the most cursory glance, with no significant time being devoted to discussion or trying to explain to the people the nitty-gritty behind resource extraction or monetary policy.  So, maybe a couple of minutes or so is devoted to an issue like that, which affects virtually everybody, but yet, significant parts of time are devoted to celebrities like Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan or Lady Gaga, and their "problems".  This results in people who are informed about the most trivial, inconsequential things, while at the same time, being scared shitless and having an acute grasp that something is terribly wrong, but not being able to articulate what that is, let alone possessing the tools to actually try to do something about it. 

I just saw that Sirius XM (which I subscribe to) has just launched a 24-hour channel devoted to keeping track of Charlie Sheen and his every movement.  This is an example (perhaps the most extreme one) of the insanity that I am talking about. 

As for me, I have not watched a newscast, in full, in many years, or read a magazine devoted to current events.  The Internet really is a beautiful thing, the outlets of information here, there is just no comparsion between this and the old media.  However, I haven't watched Al-Jazeera since the early days of the Iraq war.  In order for America to turn the tide and have a respectable reputation in the global news industry again, our media must be willing to have their news centers become "loss leaders" again and be willing to let them report "hard news", even if it means that their zombie viewers tune out.  But this is highly unlikely to happen, as corporations have gotten larger and larger, and profit has become even more key. 

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