Monday, January 26, 2009

Self Serving Media

Like many, I get most of my news from television. Television is one of the most powerful forms of communication we have today.

Love it or loathe it, television shapes the way we think.

But news shows are supposed to present, well, the news. Way back in the day, when I was a journalist, news was anything happening right now that can affect our readers, viewers and listeners right now, or in the not too distant right now.

Thanks to 24-hour news networks with a constant need for stuff happening right now, news is less geared towards informing and often more of a form of entertainment. That’s one of the many reasons I left the news biz. Call me old fashioned, but I still can’t figure out how some talentless ditzy twenty-something celebrity’s choice to wear or not to wear panties will somehow have any impact on my life, or the lives of those I’m reporting for.

News is a business, it does cost money to broadcast and print those stories – that’s typically where ad sales come in play. But lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the media, one which takes this business to a whole new low.

While watching a local station’s newscast, I notice how they are now promoting their non-news, non-station produced shows, during the newscast, as a news story.

One station will constantly have a lead entertainment piece on one or two shows they will be airing later that night. Another station will feature guest interviews with the stars of shows they happen to air, about those shows.

It used to be we’d run “in-house” ads exclusively about us. If we had a special feature, an in-depth investigation or an exclusive story, we’d promote that during our newscasts and in our papers. We never made up a story about these, and we were clear that these were promos for an upcoming piece.

I don’t know what’s worse, a news outfit making up a story to attract viewers to their non-news shows, or the fact that they are turning a news show into a forum for advertising. Both are wrong and can do harm.

Remember the story about the kid that cried wolf? Eventually, people may stop believing the news, because of all the made-up self-promotional puff pieces.

As a society, we need independent news outfits to tell us what’s going on around us, and how these things will affect our lives. If we can’t trust those delivering these valuable nuggets of information to us, who can we trust? Where would we go, to stay informed? How will we know what is really important and what is just something tossed into the mix to generate a bigger audience share?

The longer this goes on, the more likely these self-serving manufactured stories will go from the entertainment desk, to the news desk. And that’s when we really are in over our heads – because when those that print and broadcast the news start making the news up, no one will be able to separate fact from fiction.

And in the real world, one needs to know what isn’t real, to exist.

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