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Friday, July 08, 2011

All the news that fits, we print

Anybody else out there sick unto death hearing one more blessed word about Casey Anthony and the death of her daughter Caylee?

Anyone else disgusted and horrified by the News of the World journalism scandal of journalists hacking in to the cell phones of missing children or deceased soldiers in order to "get the scoop"?

How many are so thoroughly disgusted with the local 'evening news' which consists primarily of a visual montage of "on the ground coverage" of the latest weather catastrophe of fire, flooding, tornado or hurricane interspersed with musings about climate control, the state of disaster readiness, and the latest angle to find the most heartwarming story of volunteer efforts to help with the disaster?

I know I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I'm going to risk it and ask "When did 'the news' become entertainment?

I suppose the OJ Simpson trial heralded the court room drama as "The Trial of the Century". That was, of course, followed by the daily shenanigans of Michael Jackson's trial for charges of sexually abusing children.

Which has rapidly been replaced by the new Trial of the Century in the sad saga of Casey Anthony, now "The Most Hated Mother in the World."

She was found "not guilty". That doesn't mean she's innocent. It just means that the prosecution did not prove its case.

End of story.


When you're talking about capitol punishment, you damn well better prove the case beyond a shadow of a doubt. Otherwise, the judge and jury and prosecution are committing murder.

Then there's Lindsay Lohen and Charlie Sheenhan, two celebrities of dubious distinction, whose mental instabilities have been trotted out for the 'entertainment' value of the viewing audience.

Then there's The Arnold and John Edwards and a host of Republican congressmen who defend "family values" and deny the civil rights for universal Marriage Equality while having bathroom trysts with other men.

There are two wars going on. The Middle East is in the midst of an historic revolution. There's genocide in sub-Sahara Africa. AIDS is a pandemic on every continent except North America. Economies in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, England and these United States, among others, are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Unemployment is at record highs. Then, there's the deficit.

Oh, wait. Those things don't make us feel good about ourselves. And, that seems to be the point of journalism these days - make ourselves feel good about ourselves, even if that's at the expense of others.

That's what sells papers. Selling papers makes money. Money is always the bottom line.

And that, it seems, is the real point of journalism.

The Church seems to be following suit. Have you noticed? More and more diocese - indeed, The Episcopal Church's publications - seem to be abandoning print media for electronically communicated news.

I have no real problem with that - if it were "news" they were communicating.

Most of it just serves as a "house organ".

Gone are the days of thoughtful, theologically provocative or spiritually insightful essays by bishops or church leaders. Most church publications sing their own verse of the same tired, old, relentlessly positive and cheerful hymn about the 'good news' of what's happening around the church.

It's not that I don't appreciate hearing about churches that are involved in mission and creative ministerial responses to the Gospel. I do. I also appreciate being informed on the outcomes of various important meetings around the church and the Anglican Communion.

It's just that I long for honest, articulate, intelligent analysis of the Christian perspective on what is happening in the church and in the world.

Is that so much to ask?

I know. I know. Some of us can get that on some of the blogs. Unfortunately, most of them - with rare exception - are personal opinions masquerading as analysis. If you happen to trust the opinions and POV (point of view) of the author, you may be getting close to something that comes close to analysis.

I still deeply lament the loss of publications like The Witness and The Other Side, which only serves to make me even more deeply appreciative for publications like Christian Century which offer timely articles, news reports and analysis, poetry, religious cartoons, and insightful, intelligent spiritual reflections.

I am stunned by the growing trend in many diocese which now require the position of Director of Communication to have skills of technology, fundraising, and stewardship.

Oh, and walk on water and then, at the end of that stroll, change the water into wine - and all at a salary well below professional standards because, well, because it's the church.

It's like the new slogan for the church is the same as Target: "Expect more for less." What they don't say, however, is that most of the commodities they sell "for less" are done at the expense of overseas manufacturing and substandard salaries for their employees which equals higher profit margins and greater bonuses for the people at the top of the organizational food chain.

Meanwhile, the masses get fed "happy news" about all the "good things" that are happening around the church with people who are "Doing more with less."

I'm thankful for the gift of my satellite radio which allows me to listen to NPR and BBC as well as local stations which provide me with local news and weather.

I can also listen to religious broadcasting on BBC which seems to know its audience quite well and speaks with eloquence and intelligence about what's going on in the church, mosques and temples, as well as in the world.

For my money, audio newscasters are far superior to anything in print or visual media.

In 2008, Gallup provided a sampling of negative news gathering trends:
a 40% drop in every issue readership by the weekly news magazines
only 8% get weekly news from the news magazines
a 25% drop in daily readership of local newspapers
47% never or only occasionally read local newspapers
51% never or occasionally watch nightly network news programs
84% never or occasionally read national newspapers
74% never or occasionally watch Sunday morning TV news programs

Drilling down to a younger demographic, the seismic shift in information gathering looks bad for most information outlets other than the Internet and the possible exception of local TV news. The latter is still strong but declining.

Here is how 18 to 29-year-olds gather daily news:

36% use the Internet (up from 26 % in 2007)
36% watch local TV news (down from 44% in 2007)
22% read local newspapers
12% read national newspapers
18% watch nightly network news
24% watch cable news networks
That was in 2008. I suspect, three years later, the news isn't any better.

Perhaps I'm not as old a curmudgeon as I thought.

The slogan of the NY Times was: "All the news that's fit to print."

Mad Magazine
riffed on that with their slogan: "All the news that fits, we print."

I'm beginning to think that the inmates are now running the asylum.

Given all that has happened with the exposure of the journalistic corruption at News of the World - which I'm sure is just the tip of the iceberg - isn't it time that we returned to some journalistic standards of excellence and honesty, inquiry and analysis, eloquence and decency?

I, for one, would feel a whole lot better about that, even if the news didn't make me feel good.


Paul said...

I think the problem started when the News divisions started reporting to the Entertainment divisions. When News was considered not a community service but part of the business model,and expected to make a profit.

I think we need a cultural shift and start realizing that not everything in life is a business. Nor should it be.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Good insight, Paul. Thank you.

I knew health care was going to be in trouble when I started hearing new, young graduates of BS programs who were becoming supervisors and directors lecturing staff nurses about how patients were "consumers".

It was all downhill from there.

susankay said...

And I really think that the Casey Anthony frenzy is somewhat pandering to a porno-crazed public that slavers over detailed news of an evil fallen woman. Love those evil fallen women. So much less attention paid to men who kill wives, exes, kids.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, I think you've got a point there. OJ was about celebrity. This is about "The Evil Mother". Right out of Grimm Fairy Tales.

MarkBrunson said...

The great thing about my less-than-successful lifestyle, is that I have no cable, subscribe to no paper, and actually had to read up on who Casey Anthony is because so many folks kept asking my opinion of the verdict.

I caught up on weeks, months, years of news in about 45 minutes of reading and vids, and my opinion is that the jury gave absolutely the right verdict, and she is guilty. It doesn't take long to look at a sociopath - unlike Mr. Ripley and Hannibal Lecter, they're not terribly interesting in real life - and the drama around her was entirely manufactured. The drama around the trial was manufactured. The prosecution did a slipshod job - end of story. Capital case or not, there was more than a shadow of a doubt, especially when the prosecutor doesn't even present a motive. One of the first things we learned in English lit was that comedy appeals to the mind, and drama is actually the baser art, appealing to emotion.

There. Now see how easily that was summed up? Let's see how many more weeks of armchair quarterbacking the pundits do, while really complex issues, like human trafficking, the mothballing of our space program, pork-barrel concessions to corporations, even complex local issues like the test scores fudged for government money in Atlanta, are given sound bites and inside-page, two-column coverage.

Problem is, if you keep paying the media to do that, they'll keep on doing it. Whose money is it they're getting in those profits?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Very well said, Mark. And, good question.

Anonymous said...

You and I tend to be on opposite sides of most "issues" but on this post I say "right on, sister!" When I think of "The World" I think of the media. I believe there must be only commercials and 24-hour news in hell.