Thursday, January 06, 2005

The tsunami of tsunami news

A friend just came back from India. She was there for a full week after the tsunami hit. After a few days back in the States, she had to say how different the British and European coverage was from American coverage. Even the local Indian coverage was distinctly different from the rapid razzmatazz (and repetition) of our media. The most traditional journalists refrain from making their emotional reactions to the stories they are reporting the center of the stories they are reporting. In the last few days, even CNN has gone more toward asking its reporters on the scene to evoke stories of their own shock, awe and tears. The BBC and other news outlets on the scene are not cold or calculating, but their news reports are less sentimental and more matter of fact and detailed.

By comparison, our news is, in general, disaster or no, war or no, breaking news or no, more inflammatory and sentiment-driven. It is also more personality driven, meaning that the personalities and sentiments of the talking heads come into play. The same goes for how politics is covered in this country. One aspect of the commercialization of our news is that the mega-conglomerate corporations in charge don't seem to trust Americans to keep watching unless the sense of drama is heightened and unless the graphics and breaking news splashes come fast and furious.

Is this tsunami of tsunami coverage what we need? Is it what we want?

Michael Moore says that American news is directly responsible for our culture's high levels of stress, fear, anxiety, confusion about the issues involved, problematic political involvement and propensity to violence. And Moore is not alone. Sociological studies support this thesis - that the news we read or hear - and much more likely WATCH - greatly affects our abilities to perform the duties of being informed citizens and performing the duties of good citizens. No wonder the cultural divide is widening. We are taking not factual but emotional sides, fact vs. faith, rural vs. urban, blue vs. red, objective vs. subjective.

We can't let the melodramatic news machines win.

Thanks to Brian Lamb for keeping C-Span going. Too bad more of us are not drawn to its matter-of-fact neutrality - a big part of human nature craves the excitement of a story and fears they can relate to.

But how to raise the quality of our news, especially on television, where most of the money and is and where most people with access to it get nearly 100 percent of their news?

CNN has been loosing viewership to FOX and other cable outlets, partly because, like the Democrats getting suckered in by the Republicans, it has been co-opted by its own fears of losing viewers to be more like FOX, more reactionary, more emotion driven, less analytical, just dumbed down. CNN is a lot closer to FOX in tone than it is to the BBC, still a world standard for professional, detailed and analytical news coverage.

Fortunately, CNN has a new president who seems intent on turning back this tide of reactionary blather. (See my "Crossfire" post below, with its link to an NY Times article about where CNN and Tucker Carlson are going.) Jonathan Klein wants CNN to move toward more substantive, story-oriented journalism. Does that mean more boilerplate? Or more of Aaron Brown's loosely knit musings?

We'll see how it goes.


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5 Comments:

At 1/07/2005 7:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not living in Houston, you've missed the latest bench-mark in dumbing-down the news. Channel 2 NBC has added Radar, the weather dog, a big shappy something. He makes appearances at local dept stores and, of course, there are stuffed versions of Radar for sale!!! Don't you wish you lived in Houston! RQ

 
At 1/07/2005 10:40 AM, Blogger lorraine said...

Propaganda is about bypassing the intellect to inflame the passions so that one reacts rather than acts. The news is supposed to be about giving one facts so that one can make one's own decisions. It's becoming increasingly difficult to tell propaganda from news.

 
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At 11/08/2005 1:40 AM, Blogger Living in Thailand said...

We have a website that was created during the Tsunami please let us know if any people there is found and we will delete themAfter the Tsunami

 
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