Monday, October 19, 2009

Cable Entertainment News

Yesterday I started seeing headlines on news websites about the 'balloon boy', the six-year-old who was thought to be trapped in a balloon that was drifting through the sky until it turned out he was hiding in his family's attic. Apparently, many Americans sat enthralled, glued to the cable news to see how the 'drama' turned out. After he was found, the news channels stayed on the story, focusing on the new question of whether the whole thing was a hoax.

Especially at times like this, it seems to me that CNN (Cable News Network) should change its name to CEN, for Cable Entertainment Network. 'The News You Want, Not the News You Need.' They go into overdrive when an attractive white woman goes missing. JonBenet, Michael Jackson (trial and death), O.J., Anna Nicole's death, and dozens of others that I'm mercifully forgetting have taken up thousands of hours of time, diligently keeping Americans informed on these vital issues. The reason, of course, is no mystery: these topics get ratings, and ratings mean money.

But are these stories 'news'? What constitutes 'news'? One can certainly argue that news is non-fiction events we want to know about, and it doesn't matter whether or not they're important in the scheme of things. The other argument is that news programs should give us information that helps us better understand what's going on in the our city, our country, and the world; information about events that will affect a great many people. The Zimbabwean prime minister may pull out of his governing coalition with the dictator Mugabe, an event that will have a great impact on that country. But in America, CNN dares not spend more than a minute on that, as a nation of Homer Simpsons, remotes in hand, may at any time exclaim "bor–ing!" and switch the channel.

Maybe it's not fair to call balloon-boy-type stories 'entertainment news', as we already have that. It of course isn't really news, but but rather, entertainment industry p.r. pretending to be news. There should be, for balloon-boy stories, a term that means 'information about real events that is quite interesting, but does not have and never will have any impact on your life, or on the lives of anyone but the people involved.' Maybe it could be called True Stories in the News ("The TSN Network!"), because that's what these are, interesting stories. When one of these stories hits, CNN, Fox, and MSNBC abandon any pretense of being news channels, and become TSN channels for as long as these stories get better ratings than whatever they usually report about. Now, that's fine; it's a free country. But I do think that when you do that, you give up your right to be annoyed if people snicker when you call yourself a news channel.

Of course, it's still possible to get real news, though on TV it's a little more difficult. The BBC and PBS, I believe, still do some good stuff, and there's always the print media, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Many blogs are stepping up and providing actual news, and many of the good blogs can be counted on to link to important stories. Even these media have failings, such as an America-centered worldview and wantonly granting anonymity for people to criticize political opponents, but they're still much better than what we see much of the time on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. Still, the fact is that if Americans demanded more information about ethnic strife in Europe, the Chinese economy, analysis of why U.S. health care costs are out of control, British efforts to cover up U.S. torture, or Israeli settlement activity, we would get it. But we don't. As with most things, we get what we deserve, and we deserve what we get.

No comments:

Post a Comment