Megan Taylor

front-end dev, volunteacher, news & data junkie, bibliophile, Flyers fan, sci-fi geek and kitteh servant

The Downside of Mass Media

Romenesko

TV news treats Anna Nicole as though she were Princess Di – WashingtonPost.com
“In cable, you only need an extra half-million or million viewers to produce a serious spike in the ratings, and that’s why Anna Nicole Smith, nearly two weeks after her death, is still sucking up plenty of cable oxygen,” Howard Kurtz tells chatters. “At least after the day of her unexpected death, Anna Nicole has not become a newspaper obsession. It’s TV that is treating her as though she were Princess Di.” ALSO: “I think the media have really been lazy in the knee-jerk reporting on Romney=Mormon=political problems,” says WP’s media critic.

Howard Owens

Ever since the first online editor e-mailed to the newsroom a Top 10 list of the most read stories on the web site, the debate has raged:

* Why do readers want the sensational stuff?
* Are we in danger of letting reader stats dictate coverage?

There has always been an underlying conflict in journalism — readers complain about sensationalism, but accidents, crimes, natural disasters and gossip help sell papers and spike TV ratings. On the web, we just get to witness the conflict in real time. Journalists want to be high minded, but they also want an audience.

Adam Reilly notes that the dueling values of readers and journalists are epitomized on one story on Boston.com: Tom Brady’s love child. Readers complain, but it’s also the most e-mailed story on the site. Umm …

On the day of Anna Nicole’s death, I skipped more feeds in Google Reader than on any other given day. Having figured out from a headline that some woman I don’t know anything about was dead, I read one article, where I found out that she married rich and lived fast. Then I stopped caring.

This is an argument I have with a lot of people outside the Jou field. “Oh, the media is so sensationalist and focuses on so many things that aren’t important…”

And yet sensationalism sells.

Can anyone tell me why?

  • Joe

    I’ll have a ramble at it and see if anything comes of it. First, i’m reminded of my favorite Stalin quote. Taking that, i’ll put a bit of a genuine Marxist spin on it. The mass consumers of media are for the most part alienated from any sense of worldly self-importance; they toil, but cannot recognize and take pride or identity in the outcome of their efforts. They are lost in the mass, and when presented with the mass media image of somebody who appears as an individual, they latch on and vicariously process the existence they expect of a world figure. They look at some silly person on the news and fixate on the idea that despite how silly they are, they are still on the news, presented as a unified figure whose actions have tangible effects, if only in the virtual realm of mass communication. So the death of the media constructed individual will resonate far more than the million deaths of the anonymous. These little narratives are easy for a little person to relate to, and yet are still projected as world-historically consequential in a way that the components of the mass only dream about. This is partially the result of expectancy concerning the coverage in media, but in the defense of journalists there is a history to at least some of these idolizing narratives. In this case, this image-hooker married this rich guy. His power, even as an estate then, can be argued as historically important in its potential for mobilization, especially in the hands of said image-hooker. If nothing else that earlier narrative gives some insight into the status of American culture. And now she’s just a repeat issue; appearing on the news is a good way to get back on the news, especially if you, as an experienced image-hooker, posture yourself in a way to continue to attract attention. Middle school sluts of all genders pick up on this ability and leverage it, no reason to suspect that said image-hooker with an agent and a lawyer would be any less successful. In this case it’s just a bigger arena. Still the same middle school motives. Why does it sell? The anonymous attempt to identify with the constructed name. The herd rears up on its rotting moral haunches to condemn the exceptional, nevermind how contemptible it may or may not be. The urge to punish, to dominate and display shame in an ideologically condoned carnival. Scrutiny, blame, the hint of sexual subjugation, the fleeting representation of something postured as meaningful as a panacea for boredom.

  • Joe

    I’ll have a ramble at it and see if anything comes of it. First, i’m reminded of my favorite Stalin quote. Taking that, i’ll put a bit of a genuine Marxist spin on it. The mass consumers of media are for the most part alienated from any sense of worldly self-importance; they toil, but cannot recognize and take pride or identity in the outcome of their efforts. They are lost in the mass, and when presented with the mass media image of somebody who appears as an individual, they latch on and vicariously process the existence they expect of a world figure. They look at some silly person on the news and fixate on the idea that despite how silly they are, they are still on the news, presented as a unified figure whose actions have tangible effects, if only in the virtual realm of mass communication. So the death of the media constructed individual will resonate far more than the million deaths of the anonymous. These little narratives are easy for a little person to relate to, and yet are still projected as world-historically consequential in a way that the components of the mass only dream about. This is partially the result of expectancy concerning the coverage in media, but in the defense of journalists there is a history to at least some of these idolizing narratives. In this case, this image-hooker married this rich guy. His power, even as an estate then, can be argued as historically important in its potential for mobilization, especially in the hands of said image-hooker. If nothing else that earlier narrative gives some insight into the status of American culture. And now she’s just a repeat issue; appearing on the news is a good way to get back on the news, especially if you, as an experienced image-hooker, posture yourself in a way to continue to attract attention. Middle school sluts of all genders pick up on this ability and leverage it, no reason to suspect that said image-hooker with an agent and a lawyer would be any less successful. In this case it’s just a bigger arena. Still the same middle school motives. Why does it sell? The anonymous attempt to identify with the constructed name. The herd rears up on its rotting moral haunches to condemn the exceptional, nevermind how contemptible it may or may not be. The urge to punish, to dominate and display shame in an ideologically condoned carnival. Scrutiny, blame, the hint of sexual subjugation, the fleeting representation of something postured as meaningful as a panacea for boredom.

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