Tasteless News

I’ve complained before that today’s news outlets are sorry. (I mean “sorry” in the Southern definition of the word, which means disgraceful–with the implication that the object of the discussion doesn’t even feel shame for their faults.) Most of the time they’re trying to pass off gossip as news.

Today, for instance, the top news stories on MSN include such fascinating news articles as whether or not Ellen DeGeneres and her soon-to-be-wife want to have a baby, and the fact that a two-headed pig was born in China, but nary a mention on the front page that North Korea keeps threatening to launch a missile–possibly a nuclear warhead–at the United States.

Silly me for thinking that the news that our country might be attacked or forced into war might be relevant to my life (and the lives of many other Americans) when, clearly, Ellen DeGeneres’ reproduction decision is of more impact to my personal life.

This article from the Daily Mail also caught my attention a little while back:

How the seven dwarfs of Auschwitz fell under the spell of Dr Death:
The hideous experiments carried out by Nazi Josef Mengele on seven trusting brothers and sisters

Having studied the Holocaust in both high school and college–and I seem to recall I wrote a paper on Mengele–I’m past the point of finding stories like this one shocking. But what I did find surreal is that, in this news article about a serious and horrific subject–which touches on death, survival, and the depravity of some humans’ souls–the right-hand sidebar was filled with celebrity news which frequently (at the time I originally read it) featured starlets falling out of their clothes/bikinis.

You would think that whoever put the article together would say, you know, it’s tacky to advertise meaningless Hollywood news next to a story about the Holocaust. Let’s turn that sidebar off.

Instead, having it there makes the story (which was otherwise decently presented) look like just one more piece of cheap entertainment for public consumption.

I’m not British, but I seem to recall that the Daily Mail is not known for its intellectual pieces. If you’re going to be an entertainment rag, just be an entertainment rag. By trying to tackle serious subjects in the midst of Hollywood’s lewdness and depravity, you just make yourselves look like idiots and you demean your serious subject. (And MSN needs to decide where it’s going to go: entertainment or news; you can’t straddle the line indefinitely.)

Does no one in the news media have any common sense?



The News is Dead

I have been in a conversation with a friend over the benefits (and drawbacks) of living without television. (Disclaimer: we have a television and can watch movies, but we have no cable, satellite, or even an antenna.)

Our conversation migrated into the merits (or lack thereof) of “news.” I was turned off television news when Diane Sawyer told me about a plane crash with a gleam in her eye. (No, really, she described a plane crash into a Florida office building as a “fascinating” story. She had to hurry and cover her gaffe by adding, “and tragic.”)

Now news outlets on the internet have gone the same way: all gossip and sensationalism, and rarely anything of real interest. I’ve gotten to the point that I rarely check MSN anymore because I don’t often read the articles. And this morning offered a fine example why I should never bother again.

Top news stories for April 11, 2012 at 9:20 AM:

  • Eliminations on “Dancing with the Stars” and “The Voice”
  • Housing: What can you buy for $200k, $500k, or $1 million
  • Arkansas fires Petrino after wreck and misdeeds (apparently this man is their football coach)
  • Under-20 Celebs with sophisticated style
  • Best of spring style from East to West
  • Why do we hand politicians babies?
  • Earthquake in Indonesia; North Korea prepping for rocket launch; Santorum drops out of race

There you have it folks–what passes for news on a major online news outlet: television reviews, articles on houses the vast majority of Americans can’t afford, a sports scandal, two articles on fashion, an inane question which no one wants to know the answer to, and one–ONE–spot in seven for things which people actually consider news: natural disasters, warlike overtures by a hostile nation, and a notable change in the political landscape.

Here are the editor’s picks:

Other prominent news stories include:

Pardon my language for a moment, but no other word will do: Who gives a fuck?

Zip lines in Vegas? Who the hell is Tony Romo and why do I care? Dressing like celebrities? Yeah, I really want to take fashion tips from the likes of these people.

It used to be that people read the newspaper to learn things. But what passes for “news” today not only doesn’t teach you anything, but you have to be lacking in a certain amount of intelligence to even enjoy reading it.

I will admit, when I first heard about blogging, I scoffed. Who wants to read a bunch of hack-jounralists’ editorials or details on someone’s boring, everyday life? I even hated the word “blogging.” It had a ring of idiocy to it.

Now, a decade later, I find that blogs are a better source of news than places which are paid to disseminate it. At least most bloggers openly admit their leanings–be that liberal, conservative, tea party, black, white, male, female, gay, straight, religious, atheist, etc. You can make an informed decision whether you want to read only those things which agree with your world view, only those things which oppose it, or a combination of both.

News outlets, however, try to maintain the illusion of impartiality while subtly imparting their leanings to their readers. (The exception being Fox News, which is unapologetically conservative.) I find this more dangerous because your views can be swayed without your knowing it, and without you having the option to read something which presents the opposite view. There’s a difference between choosing not to study the other side and not studying the other side because you don’t realize there is another side.

And these “hack-journalist” bloggers actually seem to do a better job at investigative reporting than major news outlets. From Wikipedia:

An early milestone in the rise in importance of blogs came in 2002, when many bloggers focused on comments by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.Senator Lott, at a party honoring U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, praised Senator Thurmond by suggesting that the United States would have been better off had Thurmond been elected president. Lott’s critics saw these comments as a tacit approval of racial segregation, a policy advocated by Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign. This view was reinforced by documents and recorded interviews dug up by bloggers. (See Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo.) Though Lott’s comments were made at a public event attended by the media, no major media organizations reported on his controversial comments until after blogs broke the story. Blogging helped to create a political crisis that forced Lott to step down as majority leader.

Similarly, blogs were among the driving forces behind the “Rathergate” scandal. To wit: (television journalist) Dan Rather presented documents (on the CBS show 60 Minutes) that conflicted with accepted accounts of President Bush’s military service record. Bloggers declared the documents to be forgeries and presented evidence and arguments in support of that view. Consequently, CBS apologized for what it said were inadequate reporting techniques (see Little Green Footballs). Many bloggers view this scandal as the advent of blogs’ acceptance by the mass media, both as a news source and opinion and as means of applying political pressure.

The impact of these stories gave greater credibility to blogs as a medium of news dissemination. Though often seen as partisan gossips,bloggers sometimes lead the way in bringing key information to public light, with mainstream media having to follow their lead. More often, however, news blogs tend to react to material already published by the mainstream media. Meanwhile, an increasing number of experts blogged, making blogs a source of in-depth analysis.

[Emphasis mine.]

Bloggers are “partisan gossips?” Scroll up to the list of MSN stories that I share and see if that comment can’t also be applied to major news outlets.