Did we create the monster…

…or is the monster re-creating us?

Hopping around to various newsie sites, I see a lot of moaning, groaning, and bitching about the state of broadcast journalism today. How the ethics are shot…the stories are more entertainment than news…how Barbie and Ken are running rampant in the studio. Where to lay the blame? Well favorites are consultants. Management. News directors. The new crop of (you name it: reporters, producers, crew).

But we’re leaving out the most critical factor. The elephant in the newsroom discussion: the audience.

THAT my friends is the monster that is forcing change as much as anything. And it IS a MONSTER. It wants entertainment…excitement…it is a voyeur demanding the reality it can never live…but wants to emulate.

OUR audience.

Oh, where to begin? How did this all start? Examine it enough and you end up staring at the lint in your belly button (or the toe-jelly…um, never mind…).

Back in the 90s I worked for a station whose demographic (we used to jokingly say) was “Trailer Trash Barbie.” The only person at home during our noon and early news shows. Um…and the only one who wasn’t watching some of the other stations with well let’s say a little more of what we like to think of as “news”. Little TTB has been very busy pro-creating with lots of “Gangsta Kens” and other unnamed low-lifes, raising up an entire new crop of young ‘uns.

These mini(couch)taters are generally overfed, undereducated (trust me – the students who walked into my classes firmly stating, “I don’t read.”), with little or no motivation to become…anything. They just want their “stuff” and an Idol to clone themselves after.

Our new audience.

They spend more time in front of a screen than any other generation. The virtual world is more real than the couch they kick back in. The stars they watch wallow, not twinkle. They don’t watch news…well, because it’s boring…doesn’t relate to who they are.

The result is broadcast news has changed to meet the demands of a generation who can choose (be it broadcast or streamed on youtube) exactly what they want to see and hear…and it does not seem to fit the traditional definition of news: information that informs and educates people about their community and world.

sigh…end of rant.


6 thoughts on “Did we create the monster…

  1. I agree with you to a strong extent, but I dont think aspiration is the only driving factor. There’s also been a blurring of the line between entertainment – that is, celebrity – and current affairs. Suddenly Peaches Geldof being pregnant is announced on the BBC next to the situation in the Middle East. Unimportant things are suddenly important, so young people like me think that the important – grades, university – is unimportant compared to looking good & meeting the ‘right’ people. A blend of both is the best, but oftentimes thats just too much effort..


  2. SB…good points. And the slippery slope was when sales and programming began to demand “news” stories on programming and advertisers. But to perhaps a more (equal) extent the audience is running the show. (let them eat cake and give them games)

  3. The public has always had a thing for schadenfreude and escapism. Nor do they like to be lectured to.

    The trick for broadcast journalism is finding a balance between those two extremes without selling out one’s ethics to infotainment or going so high-church one’s stories are drier than the Atacama Desert.

  4. Once again correct Amanda. But how do you get them back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree? Or in modern terms, how to you get them back to milk after they tasted crack?

  5. Watershed events drive the audience back to news…when it affects them directly or they perceive that it affects them in some way. Our country…the world…has become extremely fractionalized. I believe that as a species we may be on a journey either to extinction or towards actually becoming a mature and thoughtful species. Though at times the latter seems less likely than the former. Birth pains are always the worst…but what is delivered puts the pain behind us.

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