There has long been a merger of sorts in progress on the front page of news sources across America. It started with splashy color, shorter articles and more eye-catching headlines. But as time has gone on, this integration has seeped into the content of the newspapers as well.
It was first referred to as “infotainment,” some well-intended push to make Americans more informed without them realizing it — candy-coat breaking news with bigger pictures, fewer words and more sensationalism. And more newspapers sell while more Americans show at least some semblance of education about the world that surrounds them. It appears to be a win-win situation, but this movement’s effect seems to have slowly changed the focus of news sources all together.
It has long been a staple of fiction to attach the reader to a character. The more real and devastating a fictional life can be, the more people seem to be drawn to it. This is the same concept that has long governed the classic soap opera in print, on the radio or on TV, and it has made that empire amazingly successful. So in the pursuit to balance journalism and commerce, why not cash in on a guaranteed formula?
Thus, this country has become a personality-driven nation. Take a glance at today’s headlines. What (or, more appropriately, who) is it that is being focused on? The majority of stories can be summed up with a name: Michael Jackson, Prince Charles, Martha Stewart. Important issues even have a name and a face attached: Having a living will equals Terry Schaivo.
This type of information presentation is dangerous for several reasons. First, it does too well what it was designed for — it blurs the lines of news and entertainment to the point that the distinction becomes indecipherable and “the truth” becomes hard to pinpoint. But possibly even more destructive than the blurring that is taking place, this movement is dangerous because of its knack for oversimplifying the complex. While equating issues with certain people or stories can sometimes be done successfully, many issues are just too complex to be reported in that way. The recent coverage of the war in Iraq serves as an example of an issue that was presented across the media too simply.
As even respectable publications stooped to running bumping pictures of the two world leaders involved with bold or overzealous headlines, the conflict became less a war of two countries and much more a war of two people: Saddam Hussein and President George W. Bush. This “central plot” type of thinking encourages ignorance in that it allows the news consumer to write things off too quickly, choose sides and never examine the core of what is going on.
U-Wire, Arkansas Traveler