I’m not quite sure when it happened, but somehow over the last few decades, news has become a commodity that is invented, developed, marketed, and sold much like a sports drink or a hair product. The transformation seems most apparent in television network and cable news outlets. It has been argued that the round-the-clock cable news companies completely changed the way the public thinks about information and how it is delivered. And then there is the Internet. Regardless of the origins, so much of our news is now completely consumer driven, and our consumers consist of a whole lot of people who are not so well educated and who crave entertainment. Sensationalism is entertaining — give ’em what they want! But what they want is certainly not what we all need to be truly informed.
Americans who get their news from the mainstream sources will likely be able to tell you how many people died in the latest plane crash, the identity of the latest victim kidnapped and/or murdered by ISIS, what Kim Kardashian was wearing at the Grammy Awards, which presidential candidate is ahead in the polls, and how many times a police officer shot an unarmed African-American man yet again. What they probably won’t be able to tell you is the impact that drought is having on farmers in California that will adversely affect food prices across the country. It is doubtful they will know anything about the violence raging in Libya and other areas of Africa, which is increasing the number of people fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. They will likely be unaware of a new type of blood test that is starting to transform cancer treatment, sparing some patients surgical and needle biopsies.
I’m not trying to unfairly pick on CNN, but they are the leader in world news. Yet, they have fallen into the sensational trap of providing shallow news. A quick look at today’s headlines on their website reveals these tasty stories:
- Johnny Depp’s dogs face deportation or death
- Ex-NFLer accused of murdering prison cellmate
- Rock singer discloses mental disorder
- ‘Simpsons’ stalwart rejects $14M deal
And the top three stories are about the Amtrak train crash, which will probably dominate CNN and the other outlets for several weeks, leaving behind the search for more clues in the German airline crash into the Alps a few weeks ago — old news now.
Checking out other outlets like FOX News, CNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC will result in much the same material. In addition to giving us bad news, the providers are also constantly trying to test the political, ideological, moral, and religious climate of their viewership. Since the country is so deeply divided along those lines these days, we find the media organizations making choices about coverage and slanting their editorial content accordingly. On top of sensationalism, we are also fed a steady diet of partisanship and divisiveness. This isn’t comprehensive news — it’s very carefully selected information designed to keep the customer happy and coming back for more. It’s like abandoning fresh fruit, vegetables, bread, and meat for fast food and convenience-store snacks. Some of like burgers while others like fried chicken, but none of it is very good for us.