The Media

Priorities of the People

I've been spending a considerable amount of time since the Weiner fiasco trying to figure out whether it's the media or its consumers who are to blame for the dominance of nonsense and the absence of wonk in the press. While, yes, the media presents a lot of crap, it does so because the people demand it, and if the people didn't demand it, it's less likely the media would run with it.

Here's a strong example of readers popularizing something that, while tragic, doesn't deserve its place as the most popular item in the Huffington Post.

The most popular item yesterday was the death of Ryan Dunn, the Jackass guy who famously stashed a "car toy" in his butt. Second, is, you know, the likelihood of a mass extinction. Mass extinction is second.

What kind of signal does this send about the priorities of Huff Post's readership? So when you hear people gripe about Huff Post running puerile stories, bear in mind that they're doing so because people demand it -- by massive numbers.

  • pgeorge

    I thought this was a particularly jaw-dropping example of how the media turns everything into “equivalent” headlines so that the idea that the human race may not survive another century (except maybe in tiny struggling remnants) is equivalent to the importance of one drunk-driving celebrity death. And this is happening in segments of the media I formerly respected. They all seem to feel we need to “lighten up” after 30 seconds of bad news.

    It’s actually far more destructive than the idea that “balancing” stories of far right looniness is just meant to offset liberal media bias and has no long-term consequence. The long-term consequence of balancing stories of ecological tragedy with celebrity fluff is that too many people think things can’t be that bad if we are still reading about celebrities…. And I do blame the media first. I don’t care about the personal life of any celebrity I can think of and loathe reality shows, but I can’t look at the internet or turn on the television – or even buy groceries – without learning which ones are famous (for nothing).

    Anyway, the above instance has just about put me off Huffington more than anything I can think of.

  • Ken Johnson

    If a school serves brownies and apples, most kids will go for the brownies. Is that the kids’ fault or should the school be held responsible for serving junk? (Yes, I am intentionally comparing the news reading public to children who can’t make responsible decisions for themselves and HuffPo to junk food. :D)

  • Politicalpartypooper

    “While, yes, the media presents a lot of crap, it does so because the people demand it, and if the people didn’t demand it, it’s less likely the media would run with it.”

    Without actual statistics to tell the story, it’s impossible to lay the blame at the viewer’s feet. True, we slow down to look at accidents at the side of the road and we have are attracted to shiny objects such as big boobs, blood, war, gossip, and a good Tiger Woods-like scandal. But do we really demand it?

    Nevertheless, if scandal and gossip were the driving forces behind news coverage, the E channel on cable would totally dominate ratings. Nancy Grace would dominate ratings, because she’s been all Tot-mom all the time for the last two years.

    It’s misleading when the press says “we only show…over and over and over…because our ratings say you demand to see it.” BS.

    The chicken that laid this egg was the networks, followed by Cable news, which soon took the ridiculousness to new heights. People will watch crap if you lay it out before them, but look at the top rated television show for the last what, seven years? American Idol. How much blood, gore, and scandal is found in this show? While I’m not a fan of the show, everyone can recognize that up against one hour of Weinergate, American Idol dominates it, and dominates every other scandal that Cable and network news throws at it, time after time. The format is simple and it works.

    If the networks and Cable news companies were to cover the news, the way it was covered years ago, people would watch. The reason they’ve resorted to crap is grab the people for longer amounts of time, and the people who wouldn’t normally watch.

    The news isn’t about the truth. It’s about money. I get most of my news from the internet these days. I read about Weiner’s troubles for maybe five minutes. Then I was done. Haven’t revisited it.

    Die hard Dems will watch MSNBC, and repubs will watch Fox, even when the content is crap, which it is. I watch CNN, and even then, can only stand about fifteen minutes of it. I get more news from the scrolling bottom bar than from whatever it is they are “producing”.

    You can blame the viewers, but they aren’t the ones driven by profit. They’ll watch the truth if it’s set before them. But just the truth wouldn’t jive with the profit-driven media’s agenda. They don’t want to tell the story, they want to frame it, and become part of it. It’s possible that they couldn’t stop now, even if America demanded something different. We don’t really have a news press anymore. We have an opinion press, and that kind of crap is hard to wash away.

  • gallery

    Yes, pretty pathetic. While we are on the subject of Huffpo though, can you PLEASE ask the powers that be over there why they are so insistent on driving away people with that annoying Facebook pop up. What is with their compulsion to link everything to Facebook?

  • Neal Lee

    Maybe you’re confusing demand with reaction. If people won’t demand more from their local, state or federal government, what makes you think the would exert the effort to demand anything from the media? HuffPo? Arianna Huffington? Huckster, phony, friend of Newt. Most of the people who click on those things do it so they can make what they think are pithy comments for their friends to see. Don’t blame the morons who read those things. Blame the people who put it there in the first place.

    • cousinavi

      I make pithy comments for their own sake. I have no friends.

    • Dan_in_DE

      excellent point, Neal. That’s getting to the nut meat of this discussion.

      Demand or reaction?

      Yes, of course the media-viewer relationship is a two way street. But the American viewer is a pretty damn passive participant in said relationship.

  • Steven Skelton

    I agree with the general sentiment. Too often (nearly universally) mindless crap beats real news.

    However, in this particular instance I have to point out that sensational articles about how we are all doomed and are all about to die are so commonplace that most find no reason to read them. After all, most of Florida is supposed to be underwater by now. We were told in the 1970’s that there was no way America could feed itself past the 1990’s. Surely another ice age was coming….et al.

    • pgeorge

      Yes, we bought ourselves a bit more time, but we are running out of it.

  • nicole

    I have to disagree. I honestly don’t believe that it’s the people.

    So that only leaves the corporate-owned media. And all of us here understand the why of it.

    New Koch film from BNF.

  • Corebela

    I’m sorry but people are completely desensitized to things like mass extinction possibility. I imagine most people see something like that and think if it isn’t being plastered all over the place and on every T.V. station then it must not be too serious. Which makes sense to me.

  • dildenusa

    This is just another manifestation of the unreality created by our business and political leaders for their own benefit. And like lemmings we swallow this mindless pap and reject the true reality that we are destroying our only home in the cosmos.

  • Broadway Carl

    Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Had The Huffington Post not given this story a prominent feature which is easy to click on, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

    Full disclosure – I clicked on the story because I was curious as to who the Jackass member was and to refresh my memory, not because I was horrified at the tragedy. Once I figured it out, I didn’t even bother reading through the short post. Personally I could care less and I’m surprised these guys haven’t killed themselves earlier with all the crazy shit they do.

    • nicole

      Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Had The Huffington Post not given this story a prominent feature which is easy to click on, it wouldn’t be nearly as popular.

      Exactly right. Which is one of many reasons I avoid HuffPost these days.

      • Dan_in_DE

        Same here. I’ve been Huffpo abstinent for quite some time now :) Although I did at times appreciate knowing what was going on in terms of hollywood gossip stories, I hardly ever clicked on any of that garbage. Generally the headline tells the entire story anyway.

        • nicole

          what you said, Dan. :-)

  • Dennis Montgomery

    No surprise there. No matter which side of the ideological coin, people love them some insubstantial sensationalism. HuffPo would never have made it out of its infancy as a much-needed place where Bush Admin disgustingness was actually covered without the bonus draw of TMZ and nip-slips. But don’t weep for humanity – it won’t weep for you.