I understand this is a strange article to be posting on a site dedicated to political news and commentary. But as I was struggling this morning to find anything of greatly novel significance going on in American politics, I realized that perhaps I should come clean about some aspects of my job with any readers I may have.
News is a business. As such, it needs to be made every day, just like the donuts. If nothing terribly interesting or groundbreaking is happening, news sites will find something to talk about. A story on a dog that can fart on command is actually just as important as a report on government spying if the ratings are the same. The significance of the news itself is not actually relevant in most cases.
You will rarely see a headline like the one for this article. Because that would not be profitable. If anything, news agencies want to convince you that now more than ever, being “well-informed” is of the utmost importance. The only problem is, that they don’t really make money by informing you. They make money by outraging you, tickling your funny bone, satisfying your curiosity, and titillating the lusts you pretend not to have.
In fact, most of the race-baiting, scandal-digging, poverty-pimping, heart-bleeding, and sex-selling done by the mainstream media is not necessarily the result of some over-arching plan to corrupt civil society (though I am not going to argue with you about it if that’s what you believe). Most of it can be explained very simply as an economically-motivated attempt to make more marketable news.
If revenue drops off either because the audience dwindles or because an advertiser doesn’t like the “political leaning” of a news story, the bottom line is affected. This largely explains the current situation in the news. Narrative sells better than facts, emotion sells better than reason, drama sells better than conviction, entertainment sells better than information. You get the gist. And we buy it. So they make more of it.
I have to write two or three articles a day. Many days (like today) I am struggling to find something that I have not written on already that seems significant. Some days, I just succumb to the fact that there’s really not a whole lot different going on, and I write something that seems like it might be mildly entertaining or stimulating.
On days like today, I check reddit politics or the Drudge Report to see what’s freshly important to people in political news. Today was just sad. One of the entries on Drudge Report was “Beyonce’s hair gets caught in fan on stage.” Yep. That’s important news. The linked article (from TMZ—that reputable paragon of investigative journalism) began with a sentence that included all caps for emphasis and no less than five exclamation points as terminal punctuation.
Even stories apparently connected to politics were just as inconsequential. One article had the headline, “Obama: ‘I’ve Got a Little Over 1,200 Days Left in Office’” I thought that surely there was something more to it than that. Nope. Here’s the first completely useless “paragraph” of that post:
Barack Obama knows how much time he has left as president of the United States. He said so last night at an Organizing For Action event in Washington, D.C.
And I care because … ? It feels more and more like the most insightful news organization in the business is The Onion, and they aren’t even purporting to report real news. At least they’re straightforward about the largely distractive purpose of news as entertainment. A headline like “Area Man’s Knee Making Weird Sound” would be a little less tragically hilarious if it weren’t so similar to headlines from “real” news.
Don’t get me wrong. There are significant things going on. But so much of it is obscured by noise, so it’s hard to know what is actually important. And, every day, we pay for more of that noise to be created. I know it doesn’t align with my financial interests, but perhaps it is time for us take a break from the so-called news, get a breath of the air outside, and try to gain a little perspective. Because just like being schooled is not the same as being educated, being current on the “news” is not the same as being well-informed.