Why has “the news” acquired a political flavor? When did describing what’s happening in the world become a war in and of itself? The problem has deep roots, and it’s likely they do not grow from competing ideologies. A big piece of the problem started from something that seems pretty plain vanilla and safe–the desire to sell stuff.
Remember when sports stadiums were named for the team? And when buses just looked like buses, not mobile billboards? There were ads on TV, but mostly before and after the show. Now the ads take more air time than the content. You only needed one hour, at most, to get the news and that quite likely included the farm report. “News” was curated locally and offered as a community service to those in that viewing area.
Now, “information” is global and available 24/7. There are a gazillion cable channels–all of which and more are available on your computer or phone as well as your TV. News is everywhere. And it is rarely happy news. It definitely isn’t balanced news. And often, it’s hard to tell the difference between a real thing and reflections.
From the beginning, television has been for profit. They provided programming that people liked and watched. That wasn’t to please their viewers. The way to media profits is ads. They wanted (and still want) to get more money for their ads by showing their advertisers that they had a lot of viewers. So this isn’t about us as viewers. It’s about keeping us looking at what they’re offering. We–as the TV audience–have been “eyeballs for hire” since the start.
When it was curated locally, TV stations gave the local viewing audience the information they needed. But when cable channels entered the picture, programming stopped being regional. News was recruited for the war for eyeballs, and each channel had to find a way to stand out.
There isn’t much room for that in factual reporting. So “the News” became part of the “entertainment” aspect of TV. Entertainment requires conflict. In a good story, something goes wrong and creates tension again and again. To approach the News this way, the sense of conflict is amped up. Recently, we’ve moved beyond even that to generating conflict by challenging the facts themselves–and proposing “alternate facts.”
Our President likes a fight. He likes to get other people fighting with each other. He’s an entertainer. He loves conflict. Others in the public view have jumped in to do the same. So there is plenty of conflict to be showcased. But is it what we need? Valid information that people can use to be informed is not part of this perview.
The media is drawn to these fights; they are “good entertainment” because of the conflict level. “News sources” replay inane, unfounded accusations again and again without any embarassment. As a nation, we are beleaguered day after day with people fighting–as “News.” Even though most of America is going about its business in peace and harmony, we are served up enough discord to believe that we are all at each other’s throats.
Add to that the “news personalities.” The pundits. The talk show hosts. Instead of just the actual conflicts that have occurred being shown a disproportionate amount of the time, the talking heads fan the flames, “interpret” so as to magnify them, and generally create an even higher sense of conflict.
It’s all about entertainment–and eyeballs. And that means it’s all about conflict. The entire world hasn’t broken out in a high school cafeteria brawl, but it seems like it. A significant source of our national stress is probably coming from all this fake fighting in the news.
A democracy encourages differences of opinion. But it also recognizes that the will of the people is in synthesizing them. No one wins if all we do is fight. Except in the eyeball war. Advertisers get to pitch their stuff. The media companies get to take the resulting revenue to the bank. We don’t even get paid to rent our eyeballs.
It’s time for a quiet rebellion on all this. We can take our eyeballs elsewhere. As consumers, we need to get wise to the distinction between entertainment and information and stop accepting the former as the latter. If you decide to watch “the news”, ask yourself “Do I need to know this?” with every article that’s dished up. With everything offered in a news feed, ask “Is this a fake fight? Who gains by frothing this up?”
When they are building angst, they don’t deserve our attention. Take your eyeballs and go home.