Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bad news, or dumb public?

This morning as I read my Tribune and drank my soy milk I turned on MSNBC for some background noise in my post-sleepy-time routine. The generic female anchor informed me that the international space station's computers - the ones that control such minor luxuries as oxygen, water, and heat - had just crashed for the second time today, and NASA was scrambling to fix the problem. She then introduced someone nominally labeled as a space station expert. Just as the bespectacled techno-geek was beginning his first sentence the female anchor interrupted him and apologized fleetingly, explaining how imperative it was that the coverage break away from the space fluff story and cover the beginning of a critical press conference by a California law enforcement official. The purpose of the conference; Paris Hilton had been transferred to a new jail cell.

And there is the issue; is the problem that the media is more interested in reporting garbage or is the problem that the general public is more interested in reading garbage? Several highly-trained astronauts in a tin can weighing 450 metric tons (a heavy tin can) that sits miles above us in the sky might have some issues breathing and not freezing to death, but that's irrelevant compared to whether Paris Hilton needs an extra Prozac today? Aren't most people upset that they're in jail? Should someone maybe just step in there and slap her around a bit (I know I want to)? I understand there's a legitimate market for this human interest drivel, or magazines like People and US Weekly wouldn't exist, but can we please keep it separate from the real news of the day, the news that folks with an IQ larger than the common house fern might be interested in?

But is keeping the celebrity world and the real world separate going to do much towards clearing the clutter? The political blogs and news sites were littered with screaming headlines Thursday morning proclaiming that Tommy Thompson would have a big announcement to make at 2. Speculation ranged from Thompson dropping out of the race to a major policy plan. Instead, Thompson pulled a great big "gotchya" on the media involved by telling everyone that he was attending the immensely irrelevant popularity contest known as the Iowa Straw Poll; something he had announced in a press release on Wednesday. Evidently Thompson felt it necessary to make the same announcement again today and label it "big." Maybe he'll make an announcement tomorrow, that he's attending the Iowa Str....never mind. Don't count on the press being in your corner after that one, Tommy.

Thompson's stunt Thursday makes me believe that either some editors and newsroom chiefs and producers are making less intelligent decisions regarding coverage of issues or that - like a communicable disease - the stupidity is slowly spreading from the sections in newspapers labeled "Life" and "Tempo" and "Entertainment" to the sections closer to the front, closer to the relevant stuff, the stuff that actually may have an impact on our day-to-day lives. One of these two possible causes is behind the fact that I might wake up tomorrow and read about how Britney Spears decided that she likes the new Doritos flavor but I won't read about a possible new oil refinery being considered for construction that could drop gas prices nationwide.

Whoever is to blame for this increasing drivel in the papers and on the tube I just hope it stops. The Chicago Tribune limits their celebrity news coverage in a nice, neat, easily ignorable sidebar column once a week. It's appropriately titled "Celebrity Magazines: We read them so you don't have to."

Great. Can we do that everywhere else too?


andrewswift said...

The media sets the agenda.

Jon Gold said...

Oh, sure; it's all our fault.

Nate said...

The media performs a service, though. To an extent, the public sets the tone for what they deem "newsworthy" (I use that term in the VAGUEST possible way)