Why Media Passes off Bunk as News

Fark‘s Drew Curtis has an amusing piece the Christian Science Monitor making fun of the fact that mainstream news outlets over-emphasize minor stories that generate ratings over more substantive news. He closes thusly:

So whose fault is all this, the media’s or the public’s? Both. Real news is simply not a ratings leader. Evening network news shows aren’t shown during prime time because they can’t hack it. This is also why prime-time news shows consist almost entirely of celebrity interviews and pedophile arrests. Note which type of “news” gets the better time slot.

It’s looking more and more as though the age of impartial journalism was a temporary blip in history whose reign ended a few years ago when the Internet turned news consumption from all-inclusive (per newspaper) to a la carte (per story).

My forthcoming book offers some solutions. Here’s one: Split 24-hour news channels in two — one carries all the “Fark,” the other carries all the real news. Revenues funnel into the same bank account; everyone wins.

Until that happens, news consumers will have to adjust to a world in which journalistic principles are being thrown out the window in a frantic quest for ratings. And mass media outlets need to make a call: Either report serious news or give up all pretenses.

His appraisal of the situation nails it: People have gotten used to the ability to pick-and-choose their own “news” content and have thus lost the patience to sit through stuff that news professionals think they’re “supposed” to see. Indeed, I have almost completely stopped watching television news, including the Sunday shows, for a similar reason: The ratio of things I couldn’t more efficiently online simply had skewed to the point where it wasn’t worth sitting there 20-40 minutes in front of the television. (And that’s TiVo’ing and scanning past the commercials.)

He then turns around and proposes the most insipid solution imaginable. If the problem is that people are demanding more “junk news” and the journalists are having to sneak in “broccoli news,” how is segregating the two onto different networks going to help? What will promptly happen is that the former will get 90% of the audience and the latter will promptly go belly up.

Curtis is a fairly shrewd businessman. There’s a reason he hasn’t started a second site called “Boring Fark.” Here’s a hint: Both would cost just as much to run but only the regular one would make any money. Sure, the revenues would flow into the same account. But the expenses would flow out, too!

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Media, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    A while ago, when CNN was leading the ratings game, we were told (over and over again) that it was because they had ‘substaive news’. Now, when they, CBS and PMSNBC are so far down in the ratings as to be laughable, it all gets blamed on Fox becaue Fox is suppsoedly running dreck like ANS 24/7, and we see folks wailing about the loss of ‘news’, to the point where PBS is running a four part series on the topic.

    So which is it?

    If real news is not a ratings maker (the claim now), should we then discount the claims of CNN 25 years ago, as to why they led the ratings back then… that they were winning then because THEY were running more fluff? Or do we discount the claim that substansive news isn’t a moneymaker?

    This reminds me of nothing so much as Jimmy Carter’s Malaise’ speech, in which he laid blame not on hmself and his lack of leadership, but on the American people. Curtis is laying blame for CNN’s demise not on CNN’s famously left-wing CONTENT, but on the viewer who is too attracted, in his view, to stories like ANS.

    I don’t buy the argument now any more than I did when Carter made it.

  2. joe says:

    I tried to submit this earlier, sorry f it’s a duplicate…

    James, why do you continue to believe the lowest common denominator fallacy? You say you no longer watch, why not believe you are on the leading edge and the rest of the viewing audience will abandon the fark too?

    I choose to believe that as total time in front of the television continues to drop, the people who pick what gets on TV will learn that the race to the bottom isn’t working. Then someone (HBO has already done it) will start appealing to the best in all of us.

  3. Steven Plunk says:

    I thought he said the revenue would be shared? By sharing the money the “real” news channel will not have to worry about attracting audience as much as reporting news.

    But who are we kidding? This is not a real solution, meaning one with a chance. Drew is comedy and though he throws in social commentary we cannot look to him for actual policy.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I thought he said the revenue would be shared?

    Right. But so would costs. You’d have one channel that would cost at least as much to run as the other but generating no money. Inevitably, you’d shut down that channel and just keep the profitable one.