Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Force

When I say The Force above, I mean not Star Wars but U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller's admonishment of the news media for "surrendering to the forces of entertainment."

As reported in The Hill (actual link to story above):
"Instead of a watchdog that is a check on the excesses of government and business, we have the endless barking of a 24-hour news cycle," Rockefeller said in his prepared remarks. "We have journalism that is always ravenous for the next rumor, but insufficiently hungry for the facts that can nourish our democracy. As citizens, we are paying a price."
It's the nourishment of democracy aspect that catches my eye, especially since I write here often about the role the news must play in a healthy democracy.  To be fair, Rockefeller also goes after our two favorite cable TV networks -- Fox and MSNBC -- for spending too much time on the right and left and not enough on quality news.

I'm shocked, shocked, to think anyone finds either network lacking in actual news coverage.  Let's face it, Fox spends more time talking about the news than actually covering it.  MSNBC, more reporting thanks to the resources of NBC News, but still an awful lot of chatter in prime time.  But that's what people apparently want, so in a sense Rockefeller is asking the new orgs to go not where the audience is or wants to be, but rather what's best for our nation and our democracy.  What's up with that?  Capitalism comes first, senator.  The media, unfortunately but logically, go where the audience takes it.  Yes, it sucks, but that's what's happening.

In terms of what people know, as I've discussed many times here, this shift to entertainment-style news is leaving us with, instead, what people feel.  Or to put it in social science terms, affect is winning out over cognition.

On a positive note, this leaves lots of room for scholarly research not only on how the news is changing, but the effects these changes have on the audience -- cognitive, and affective.

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