It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the news business is in a time of transformation. The explosion of the Internet and social media have changed all the rules.
The 24-hour news cycle adds to the vast amount of “non-news” we have to sift through. The pressure is on to continually have new things for people to see. The other day, I was on a website of a world-famous news organization that runs its top stories in photos on top of the page. Two of the stories were, “Captivating rare views seen on the red carpet” and “Khloe turns heads in Hollywood with racy outfit.” There’s news! Hollywood celebrity goes out in public barely dressed. I would scoff at these kinds of stories (maybe I already have, actually), but I understand why they’re there. It’s the old question of “do we give readers what they want or what they need to know?” In a newspaper, you have limited space. On a website, you can pretty much throw it all up against the wall and see what sticks.
Besides, I would guess that more people probably look at stories like “Fischer shows off bare baby bump at 40” than they do “Russian forces tighten grip on Crimea.” That is Jenna Fischer, by the way. I don’t know who she is. But I wonder if I’m just out of touch and more Americans know about Jenna Fischer than they do Vladimir Putin.
Here are what seem to be the most-used words that are showing up in headlines on web pages these days: “baby bump,” “selfie,” “photo bomb.” It’s not necessarily a reflection on the news agency, but on our values as a society. We seem to be obsessed with celebrities. Modern media serves up this stuff all the time and we all ask for another helping. If you’re going to sell advertising and stay in business, you have to get people to look at your site. In order to get people to look at your site, you have to roll out the baby bumps.
No matter how much things change, though, there always will be a need for places to get accurate information. The key in that sentence is “accurate.” The phrase “I read it on the Internet” has become a punch line since so much that appears there is wildly inaccurate. The Internet is kind of the ultimate democracy of information. There are bloggers on every subject known to man a few others, besides. The only problem is trying to figure out what is true and what is false. In more traditional news organizations, there are layers of editors and journalistic standards that at least have some effect on the final product. When you’re on-line, many of those checks and balances can be lost.
Then when you add Facebook and Twitter and whatever else is out there that I don’t even know about, you add to the problems. How many U-Tube videos or Twitter posts do you hear about where a public figure does or says something stupid? In the old days, they had some time for damage control. Now, they seem more than willing to instantaneously show the world their lack of good judgment.
When you put all this together, we can end up being buried under an avalanche of information. We all might end up like the CIA — we have all this information, but we can’t figure out what it all means.
I’m sure we’ll work it out in the end. When Gutenberg invented the printing press, all the monks thought it was a terrible idea. When radio came along, the newspaper guys all protested. When television hit the scene, the radio people were worried. Now that we have the Internet, everyone is wondering what comes next. It’s hard for me to keep up, but I’m doing my best. At least I know that if I want to find the latest on Brangelina or Carmelo or Captain America or even Vladimir Putin, I know where to look. Well, at least I know where to look this week. Who knows what is waiting for us around the corner?