Entertaining and Informing? or Entertaining or Informing?

In our last class we focused on the Global Media System and the discussion turned to newscasts and news consumption. Professor Hayden mentioned “a new sociology to news consumption” as several students talked about how they are more critical of the news they consume – opting to read the comments section of news articles to get more balanced opinions on the news and fact checking across different news sources. We also discussed the issue of the primetime news slot, especially as newscasts have to compete against more and more entertainment shows during that time slot.

I think we are undergoing a dramatic shift in our perceptions about content. It used to be that a program was broadcast on TV at a specific time and everyone would gather around to watch it. After Tivo, OnDemand, and online TV, we have become or are becoming accustomed to the idea of choosing what we watch, when we watch it. We don’t all run on the same schedule and our content environment has adapted to fit that reality. If that is the environment that newscasts have to compete in, well then of course producers will make every effort to make their shows catchier – How are you going to convince people to choose your show over the wealth of options they have to watch?

In one of our readings “Global 24/7 news providers: Emissaries of Global Dominance or Global Public Sphere?” Daya Thussu warns of the danger of 24/7 news operations becoming increasingly entertainment driven and the ‘CNNization’ of global 24/7 channels around the world.  Particularly that “war reporting has become sensationalized and trivialized through high-tech reporting and a video-game format where complex graphics and satellite imagery provide a ‘largely virtual, even bloodless, coverage of war'” (Cottle et al. 2008)

I recently read a piece in the Washington Post about the success of Fox news (as a business model) and how it has changed the face of journalism. In it, the authors describe that what set Fox news apart was “an underlying belief that news needed to double as entertainment. He (Roger Ailes, President of Fox News Channel) made the graphics flashier, the segment titles more arresting and pushed the pacing to match that of a multi-tasking public.” And it certainly worked. Fox News has surpassed CNN in ratings, and revenue and ranks among the top 5 cable channels during prime time. Fox News has definitely succeeded in attracting a lot of loyal viewers. However, it is also constantly criticized for its biased approach and the quality of its news.

So yes, a focus on entertainment has been great at getting people to opt for watching the news when they might not have, bringing more people into the public sphere and public debate. But what are the implications of an entertainment-driven model on the quality of news and information this public is receiving? As Steven Livingston is quoted in the article, “Fox has certainly opened up and enlivened and perhaps brought into political debates people who otherwise would not have been involved. That’s one point. The other point is, ‘Is it always a good thing that that is true?”

But what do you think…is a focus on entertainment value in news beneficial or harmful?

Z’leste

Cottle, Simon and Mugdha Rai. “Global 24/7 news providers Emissaries of global dominance or global public sphere?.” Global Media and Communication 4(2) (2008), http://gmc.sagepub.com/content/4/2/157 (accessed October 16, 2011).

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2 thoughts on “Entertaining and Informing? or Entertaining or Informing?

  1. Z’leste, you make a really interesting point about Fox News and it’s business model. While I agree that media should be a platform for entertainment, I also feel that it should empower viewers to think about issues rather than just be entertained. Fox news is a great example of a network that evokes thought and entertains. To support my analysis, I’ll use the Bill O’Riley show as an example. O’Riley consistently uses rhetoric and vitriolic language to spark conversations that are essential to democracy. His show challenges the disproportionate amount of liberalism in America in a way that charges debate within the public sphere. While I most often do not agree with O’Riley’s rants, I think his show is a neat platform for entertainment and education.

  2. I think that it makes sense to make the news entertaining. It’s a win-win- people enjoy watching the news, and high viewership means ad revenue. Fox News is hardly the only news outlet that aims to not merely inform but also entertain. All of the news networks have their respective personalities- CNN has Anderson Cooper, MSNBC has Rachel Maddow etc. And these news networks have their own biases, it’s just from a different viewpoint than Fox. I’m not judging either side, I just think that it is near impossible to have completely neutral reporting of the news. But I digress.

    I’m interested to know what you think of shows like The Daily Show and Colbert Report, which are the ultimate example of infotainment. Do you think they are good in that they attract more interest in current events, or do you think it is possibly bad in that they make light of serious issues (“Mess-o-potamia” et al)?

    -Tory

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