Friday, March 2, 2007

How do we counteract the tabloids?

I alluded to this in an earlier post, but I really think that the mainstream news media is just one big tabloid. The details of Paris Hilton's love life, the status of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' kid--these things don't seem like anything relevant to me. And this sort of thing is the domain of the tabloids, with SHOCKING NEW SECRETS! about peoples' love life. And yet, it's being reported as serious news, on par with a natural disaster or serious political developments. I don't think I'd mind, except for the fact that I really do believe that it desensitizes us to actual news and events that affect our daily lives, and crowds out valuable details that allow us to make an informed choice in a democracy.

As the always brilliant and hilarious Matt Taibbi noted:

"Now, after she shaved her head in a bizarre episode that culminates a months-long saga of controversial behavior, it's the question being asked by her fans, her foes and the general public: What was she thinking?"-- Bald and Broken: Inside Britney's Shaved Head, Sheila Marikar,, Feb. 19

What was she thinking? How about nothing? How about who gives a shit? How's that for an answer, Sheila Marikar of ABC news, you pinhead?...

...My definition of a news story involves something happening. If nothing happens, then you can't have "news," because nothing has changed since the day before. Britney Spears was an idiot last Thursday, an idiot on Friday, and an idiot on both Saturday and Sunday. She was, shockingly, also an idiot on Monday. It will be news when she stops being an idiot, and we'll know when that happens, because she'll have shot herself for the good of the planet. Britney Spears cutting her hair off is the least-worthy front page news story in the history of humanity.

Apparently, from now on, every time a jackass sticks a pencil in his own eye, we'll have to wait an extra ten minutes to hear what happened on the battlefield or in Congress or any other place that actually matters.

Which makes the AP's weeklong ban on Paris Hilton stories so fascinating.

It was only meant to be a weeklong ban -- not the boldest of journalistic initiatives, and one, we realized, that might seem hypocritical once it ended. And it wasn't based on a view of what the public should be focusing on -- the war in Iraq, for example, or the upcoming election of the next leader of the free world, as opposed to the doings of a partygoing celebrity heiress/reality TV star most famous for a grainy sex video.

No, editors just wanted to see what would happen if we didn't cover this media phenomenon, this creature of the Internet gossip age, for a full week. After that, we'd take it day by day. Would anyone care? Would anyone notice? And would that tell us something interesting?

It makes me wonder why news editors make the choices to print what they print. Do they deliberately avoid controversial topics? And how can we pressure the mainstream media to report things that are actually relevant to our lives?

1 comment:

Electra said...

And how can we pressure the mainstream media to report things that are actually relevant to our lives?
How about creating our own media?
I haven't followed this too deeply, but it seems promising.