Monday, June 12, 2006
Love our Priorities
I don't agree with the puritanical dour faced pundits who argue that we are headed for decline because people are interested in entertainment and celebrities. But whether Spears divorces "K-Fed" or not has little bearing on their day to day lives. But another terrorist attack or an incident that drives up the price of oil does. I think Nikolas' point is that the coverage of events is skewed away from what matters.
The BBC manages to cover popular culture and entertainment yet also substantive coverage of what happens around the world. That's why they are my preferred nightly newscast.
Over the past two decades, and especially since the birth of CNN (and its stunning coverage of the 1991 Gulf War), news and entertainment have been converging. The hybrid--often termed “newtainment”--focuses on presenting facts quickly and in a "flashy" style. Though cable channels and Internet streaming video have perfected this modus operandi, print outlets have happily jumped on the bandwagon. Why? Ratings, ratings, ratings. To get audience numbers up, you have to give them a Hollywood blockbuster.
Gulf War II was an ideal opportunity to perfect the “newtainment” genre – and to acknowledge what we want from news has changed. The current, heated debates over conservative or liberal news bias, whether we saw too much or too little, and the value of technology and embeds in the field misses this bigger picture.
News as entertainment has been a long time in the making. Its roots can be traced to a cross-pollination of celebrity news shows and reality TV. ABC’s long-running popular culture coverage on Entertainment Tonight and NBC’s celebrity-studded Extra news magazine laid the groundwork for the cult of the celebrity. Cable picked up on this fixation and developed niche promotional channels. Then MTV hit the jackpot with 1992’s The Real World, where seven strangers were filmed struggling to live in one house. The Real World’s popularity and cost-effectiveness enticed broadcasters to jump into the fray and the reality filmmaking genre became a staple of primetime line-ups.