Posted on | July 24, 2013 | No Comments
by Luke Goldstein
On my morning drive to work I often bounce around the news channels on my XM radio. I tune into all points of view so I don’t find myself languishing in the echo chamber of my own viewpoint. Right now the six stations in my news group are: MSNBC, POTUS, Progress (new Progressive station, used to be XM Left), CNN, FoxNews, and XM Patriot (far right Conservative channel). So you would imagine during my nearly hour-long drive each morning I would hear a wide swath of ‘top stories’ depending on which channel I was on, but not today. This fateful morning as I dropped myself into the ebb and flow of freeway traffic I found every channel converged on what they felt was the most pressing story of the moment, the continuing sexting travails of Anthony Weiner.
Yes, this is an ex-Congressman who stepped down in disgrace barely over two years ago for the same behavior and yes he is currently running for Mayor of New York City, topping the polls for Democratic candidates, so there is a slight twinge of political relevancy here, but nothing to the extent that everyone was salivating over it. People were yelling, laughing, hypothesizing, philosophizing and even diagnosing mental ailments in an effort to squeeze just a few more scandalous moments out of it. Not only was it painfully redundant, but openly shameful.
If you put ten people in a room together you run a good chance of getting ten different viewpoints on what is the most important thing in the world today, but to have all of those voices coalesce around this story says more about the people listening than it does about the news stations reporting on it. The news media has fallen into a terrible trap where they compete for ratings now, for airtime against each other, which is intimately connected to advertising dollars and revenue for the company. Eyeballs equal dollar signs. They will throw up whatever tawdry, over-dramatized soap opera they can find if they believe more people will stay glued to their channel, and sadly it works. The same goes for the print media where newspapers have to compete with gossip rags at the checkout counter.
Look back just over the last few weeks, CNN made a huge ratings jump because of their wall-to-wall coverage of the Jodi Arias and Zimmerman trials. While the Zimmerman trial had some political and social impact, the Arias trial was nothing more than another murder case and neither deserved 24-hour coverage. While those courtrooms were crowding up our news outlets, we could have been learning more about any of the following things (only as examples, there are many more): the thousands of people rioting in Egypt, the fact that this Congress is on track to be the least productive in recorded history, California’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped by 60% due to better sex ed, and on and on. These are stories that matter to something more than the flashbulb or the microscopic instant of mob interest between commercial breaks.
Is there a solution to this? Absolutely, but it’s not easy and there is not only one way. First off, in my opinion, as an audience we can start paying attention to and spending our money on news outlets who take part in this media-hyped feeding frenzy the least. The power of the purse will slowly pull more and more outlets in that direction if they see the viewers walking away. Secondly, news outlets, pure ones not wearing the news as a mask for entertainment or opinion, should be publicly funded. This would remove the leash of the advertising dollars and free them to get back to doing what they were meant to do; inform and educate, not titillate.
We need the news to be able to make appropriate decisions with our votes, our wallets and our associations, for as long as we keep allowing ourselves to be drowned in the sea of hyperbole and hype, we will be stagnant as a society, forever frozen between the glossy pictures of the next scandal.