Every couple months or so, it seems that the whole “journalism is dead! People only want sensationalized gossip and entertainment” story gets trotted out, both online and in traditional. Maybe it’s a good filler for a slow news week, or the writer had just plain gotten sick of seeing Paris Hilton’s or Lindsay Lohan’s faces everywhere.
However, despite the massive proliferation of tabloid news, there is plenty more “serious journalism” happening too. For instance, the situation in Burma, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s stateside vist, and of course the events in Iraq are all recent leading stories. Still, though, there seems to be consistent fear of a widespread journalistic attempt to the throw in the heavyweight news towel against the onslaught of celebrity fluff, according to William Powers at the National Journal. This is not a new fear:
“Writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1995, under the headline “The Simpson Legacy,” the late David Shaw rued what O.J. seemed to have done to the news business: “When the tabloids clasped the Simpson story to their heaving journalistic bosoms, the mainstream media suddenly found themselves panting alongside.” “
But is it really that bad? William investigated the extent of celeb-fotainment himself. The morning after Britney lost custody of her sons (don’t you sort of hate that is considering breaking news?), he checked out a whole bunch of news sources. And with the exception of the tabloids (who are supposed to cover celeb dirt anyways), it wasn’t really that bad.
“One day this week, the morning after Britney Spears had lost custody of her children in court, I went through the newspapers to see who was playing up that story at the expense of serious news. Not The New York Times (page A20). Not The Washington Post (Style section). USA Today had a Britney teaser and photo on the front page in the left column, pointing to inside coverage, but its biggest headline was “Report on Blackwater: U.S. Did Little to Restrict Guards.”
In fact, he says, if you were away from the net, the only place to find out about Britney’s kids were the actual tabloids. Even on the web, international stories and election 2008 coverage outweighed the fluff on the big blogs and news sites. His conclusion? It’s all about where you look for your news.
“I asked Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, if it’s true that serious news is alive and well. He said it’s all about where you look: “The infotainment and tabloid culture still exists in 2007…. But the reality is, stories like Britney, Anna Nicole, and even to some extent O.J. are cable and morning news fascinations much more than the media overall.”
Yes, journalism is currently in a state of flux, but that doesn’t mean that it has died, or even is no longer relevant. The web might make things look different, and it has definitely altered our news delivery systems, but actual, non-fluffy and sensationalistic news still has an important place in the world, and in our lives.
Have an idea that might help keep the news real and not celeb-tastic? Know how to get people the information that they actually need and want to hear? Check out the Knight News Challenge and you could win funding for your ideas and projects.