Dumbed down news and shallow opinionating by celebrities

We all know how dumbed down the news has become, how sound bite and click bait and chat show dominated it has become. Pablo at Politico is scathing of it in detail, particularly the shallowness of editorial and opinion writing,  in Peddling drivel.

Over the last decade or so there has been a pernicious two-track trend in NZ media that has not only resulted in the dumbing down of the “news” and public discourse in general, but the substitution of informed and considered debate by shallow opinionating by celebrities and charlatans.

The ‘celebrities’ are often self made media marketing constructs.

In NZ the two big players are Mediaworks and NZME. The former controls TV3, Radiolive and various pop culture radio stations. NZME controls Newstalk ZB, the NZ Herald and various pop culture outlets. It has connections to TV One (at least when it comes to newsreaders), while the Mediaworks TV News platforms appears to episodically share personnel with Prime News. Fairfax Media is also in the mix, holding a portfolio of print and digital vehicles.

Because the NZ media market is small and saturated, the “race to the bottom” logic for getting readers/viewers/listeners in a shrinking print advertising market is akin to the “bums in seats” mentality that pushes academic administrators to demand easing up of marking standards in university courses.

Although in the latter instance this creates a syndrome where unqualified people are admitted, passed and receive undeserved (and hence meaningless) degrees, in the media realm this means that scandal, gossip, “human interest” and other types of salacious, morbid, tragic and otherwise crude and vulgar material (think of terrorism porn and other prurient non-news) have come to dominate the so-called news cycle.

This is accelerated by the presence of social media and 24 hours global news networks, which makes the push for original content that attracts audiences and therefore advertising revenues increasingly focused on sensational headline grabbing rather than in-depth consideration of complex themes.

In the editorial opinion field what we are increasingly subject to is the often inane and mendacious ruminations of celebrities, “lifestyle’ gurus  or media conglomerate “properties” who are used to cross-pollinate across platforms using their status on one to heighten interest in another.

That squeezes out op-ed room for serious people discussing subjects within their fields of expertise. What results is that what should be the most august pages in a newspaper are given over to gossipy nonsense and superficial “analyses” of current events.

It must be what people click on so they keep[ getting bombarded with it.

…The Herald also offers us the received (and sponsored) wisdom of lifestyle bloggers  (“how to have the best sex at 60!”) and buffoons such as the U Auckland business lecturer who poses as a counter-terrorism expert (she of the advice that we search every one’s bags as the enter NZ shopping malls and put concrete bollards in front of mall entrances), gives cutesy pie names to the (often sponsored) by-lines of real scientists (the so-called “Nanogirl,” who now comments on subjects unrelated to her fields of expertise) or allows people with zero practical experience in any given field to pontificate on them as if they did (like the law professor who has transformed himself into a media counter-terrorism and foreign policy “expert”).

That extended sentence oozes personal angst – Pablo is a real media counter-terrorism and foreign policy, who one might presume doesn’t get called on by media much to share his expertise.

The pattern of giving TV newsreaders, radio talking heads and assorted media “personalities”  column inches on the newspaper op ed pages has been around for a while but now appears to be the dominant form of commentary. Let us be clear: the media conglomerates want us to believe that the likes of Hoskings and Hawkesby are public intellectuals rather than opinionated mynahs–or does anyone still believe that there is an original thought between them?

The only other plausible explanation is that the daily belching of these two and other similar personages across media platforms is an elaborate piss-take on the part of media overlords that have utter contempt for the public’s intelligence.

I think that a significant part of it is that intelligence isn’t the target market. People who don’t see things critically. and don’t think much about what is shovelled in front of them, are more susceptible to being sucked in by all the advertising.

The evening TV news and weekend public affairs shows are still run as journalistic enterprises, but the morning and evening public affairs programs are no longer close to being so. “Human interest” (read: tabloid trash) stories predominate over serious subjects.

The Mediaworks platforms are particularly egregious, with the morning program looking like it was pulled out of a Miami Vice discard yard and staffed by two long-time newsreaders joined by a misogynistic barking fool, all wearing pancake makeup that borders on clownish in effect.

Its rival on state television has grown softer over the years, to the point that in its latest incarnation it has given up on having its female lead come from a journalistic background and has her male counterparts engaging as much in banter as they are discussing the news of the day.

The TV3 evening show features a pretty weathergirl and a slow-witted, unfunny comedian as part of their front-line ensemble, with a rotating cast of B-list celebrities, politicians and attention-seekers engaging in yuk yuk fests interspersed with episodic discussion of real news.

Its competitor on TV One has been re-jigged but in recent years has been the domain of–you guessed it–that NZME male radio personality and an amicable NZME female counterpart, something that continues with its new lineup where a male rock radio jock/media prankster has joined a well-known TV mother figure to discuss whatever was in the headlines the previous morning.

What is noteworthy is that these shows showcase the editorial opinions of the “properties” on display, leaving little room for and no right of rebuttal to those who have actual knowledge of the subjects in question.

They are largely talk shows promoting ‘personalities’/properties, using selected news as props.

These media “properties” are paid by the parent companies no matter what they do.

It’s part of their job description. There is nothing on the line but ratings and future employment negotiations.

Non-affiliated people who submit op ed pieces to newspapers are regularly told that there is no pay for their publication (or are made to jump through hoops to secure payment).  That means that the opinion pages  are dominated by salaried media personalities or people who will share their opinions for free. This was not always the case, with payments for opinion pieces being a global industry norm.

But in the current media environment “brand” exposure is said to suffice as reward for getting published, something that pushes attention-seekers to the fore while sidelining thoughtful minds interested in contributing to public debate but uninterested in doing so for nothing. The same applies to television and radio–if one is not a “property,” it is virtually impossible to convince stations to pay for informed commentary.

Should expert analysis of news and current affairs be a paid for commodity? That risks getting the opinions of the lowest bidders.

…people of erudition and depth are increasingly the exception to the rule in the mass media, with the  editorial landscape now populated in its majority by “properties” and other (often self-promoting) personality “opinionators” rather than people who truly know what they are talking about.

Rather than a sounding board for an eclectic lineup of informed opinion, editorial pages are now increasingly used as megaphones to broadcast predictably well-known ideological positions with little intellectual grounding in the subjects being discussed.

I thought that editorials were either the opinion of the editor, or more commonly a composite opinion of the editorial board or team. Has that changed?

With over-enrolled journalism schools churning out dozens of graduates yearly, that leaves little entry room and few career options for serious reporters. The rush is on to be telegenic and glib, so the trend looks set to continue.

Style over substance, with new recruits being a lot cheaper than seasoned old hacks. With radio and print media branching out into video presentations, and with the multi-tasking across platforms of the personality properties, and with the continued fragmentation of media, this is likely to continue.

This is not just an indictment of the mass media and those who run and profit from it. It undermines the ability of an educated population to make informed decisions on matters of public import, or at least have informed input into the critical issues of the day.

Perhaps that is exactly what the media and political elites intend.

I don’t think it’s a plot involving media and politicians, it just suits both their aims to dumb things down.

Most of it revolves around marketing. They are selling sound bites and trivial entertainment in order to buy business or votes.

Modern capitalism doesn’t work well with news telling or informing democratic choices.

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35 Comments

  1. Pretty accurate summation of what I now call fake news.
    Any real news is hidden in between the clickbait.
    Time to sell them all off, reduce Maori TV to one channel and use the other to report upon the other ethnic groups that make up the New Zealand population

    Reply
  2. Blazer

     /  February 11, 2018

    Interesting dissertation.The reality is there is so much choice these days that you can exercise it by not watching/reading and seeking out more highbrow/niche sources that you find more..stimulating.

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  February 11, 2018

      Today’s manifold choices are potentially healthy and good, but do they change the overall tendency of corporate-capitalist controlled media being essentially ANTI-DEMOCRATIC … of which “dumbed-down news and shallow opinionating” is merely one aspect …?

      Thankfully network television doesn’t appear to hold quite the sway it once did, although the fascination with Seven Sharp & The Project on here evidences it retains a significant hold on people …

      “With television, an event is broadcast or it is ignored: either it is in enormous headlines or it is nowhere at all. This power to choose what the great mass of people shall see … is altogether too great to be left to the judgement of a few television companies … private arrangements … and commercial sponsors.” – Walter Lippmann (quoted in Ch 5 ‘Alternatives’ of ‘Television & the Crisis of Democracy’ by Douglas Kellner [1990])

      “The question is: how are freedom and democracy in the long run possible at all under the domination of highly developed capitalism?” – Max Weber (ibid)

      ‘Celebrity’ is one of corporate-capitalist media’s more odious machinations. The more we make it about celebrity the less aware we become of our loss of democracy … and the same applies to politics …

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  February 11, 2018

        “The question is: how are freedom and democracy in the long run possible at all under the domination of highly developed capitalism?”

        Maybe more germane is how long freedom and democracy will last when folk choose wilfully ignorance over sustained thought.

        Of course, for most, learning skills for understanding the world, and deconstructing it if needed starts at school. See the problem?

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  February 11, 2018

          Capitalism with all its machinations, such as corporate-controlled media, only sustains (what you call) ‘thought’ in one direction …

          Evidence your view that any alternative thinking is looney lefties … academic infiltrators in a long march through institutions conspiracy etc etc …

          Certainly I’d like to see an education system where TOP’s four ‘C’s – Communication, Creativity, Cooperation and Critical Thinking – were of equal importance as the current system’s three ‘R’s

          “A community will evolve only when a people control their own communications” – Frantz Fanon (same source as above quotes)

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  February 11, 2018

            “A community will evolve only when a people control their own communications” – Frantz Fanon (same source as above quotes)”

            A growing problem is that they now do, via social media. And they simply self-select stuff that fits their worldview & biases &, if younger, selfie stuff.

            I’ve virtually given up on NZ tv news. I find I often forget to switch telly on nowadays & can’t be bothered watching it later. There’s just too much trivia & important items are dealt with far too briefly. Where are the intelligent public & international affairs docos of yore?

            Programs like Sunday, Seven Sharp, The Project, the breakfast tv offerings – it’s women’s magazine stuff to me. I’ve tried to watch them all the way thru from time time to time & just found myself going how can anyone watch this shit?

            Stuff.co. & NZ Herald give equal online front page prominence to worthless Lifestyle & Entertainment trivia & articles are so full of ads & clips & hi-res photos the pages often crash & I just swear & can’t be bothered reading them again.

            Pablo’s largely right. If you want decent coverage of an issue from the papers Bryce Edwards’s roundups are maybe the best.

            Reply
            • PartisanZ

               /  February 11, 2018

              I think we’re in a transition phase when the archaic mechanisms of ‘democracy’ are lagging decades if not centuries behind the digital-democratization of media …

              The possibility of aligning these social forces is incredibly exciting and challenging IMHO …

              And the corporate-capitalist forces most threatened by that ‘challenge’ will do almost anything to prevent the inevitable changes and progress involved …

            • Gezza

               /  February 11, 2018

              I think we’re just in for more of the same online.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 11, 2018

              I must confess that meaningless non-words like opinionators and opinionating are a total turn-off in anyone’s writing, even if they make good points otherwise..

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 11, 2018

              I don’t think that the news anywhere else is any better, if what I see on MSN news’ headlines when I turn off Outlook. Utter trivia that doesn’t deserve to be repeated.

              This has always gone on, of course, as anyone who has read reporting and broadsheets from previous centuries will know-as has the celebrity worship.

  3. Corky

     /  February 11, 2018

    All this provides massive opportunity for someone to create a media platform for people wanting serious news and in depth reporting. Probably the main reason such a venture would be a non starter…. who would watch?

    I agree we have too many B and C grade celebrities, bolstered by intelligent people
    opining on topics they know nothing about. When you think about it, it’s quite appalling.

    1- The ‘Bug Man.’
    2-Clive Matthew-Wilson.
    3-Sir Peter Gluckman.
    4- Nano Girl ( always has immaculate makeup).
    5- Ex sport star commenators.
    6- Self appointed spokespeople for Maoridom.
    7- The Project ( please)

    I’m sure other could add to the list.

    Reply
    • PartisanZ

       /  February 11, 2018

      The problem is that an advertising-sponsored corporate “media platform for people wanting serious news and in depth reporting” would have to criticize the very corporate structure upon which it was founded, which would alienate its own advertising sponsors …

      End of democracy …

      To put it very bluntly, the celebrities are little better than paid prostitutes of the system that doesn’t allow such a media platform … Your Mikey Hosking is a hooker …

      Reply
      • PartisanZ

         /  February 11, 2018

        But it might be done this way … and we owe a great debt of gratitude to those who try IMHO.

        Reply
        • Corky

           /  February 11, 2018

          That was a quick change of tune..almost like you were reading my mind. In fact we have quite a few mind readers in this blog.

          Reply
          • PartisanZ

             /  February 11, 2018

            No change of tune whatsoever there Corky … NZPTV isn’t really corporate capitalist media … and to the extent that it is … like to some extent ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ are [remember “means of production”] … NZPTV is prepared to critique corporate capitalism …

            That’s what I’m doing right here right now Corky …

            You, on the other hand, are simply out to get me … (optimal word = simply)

            Reply
            • Corky

               /  February 11, 2018

              No, I’m simply drilling through your decoys of arcane theories, huge words, obscure quotes from obscure commentators
              and piss taking. Hence your comment: (optimal word = simply).

              While the emperor isn’t totally naked, he is down to a pair of budgie smugglers.

            • PartisanZ

               /  February 11, 2018

              Your first paragraph neatly sums up my point about how you judge any kind of alternative thinking … Thanks for that …

              A great description of trolling too … with its violent imagery.

              I noticed your swimsuit but didn’t really want to point it out …

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  February 11, 2018

              togs….togs…togs…togd…..UNDIES. UNDIES, UNDIES…..

            • Corky

               /  February 11, 2018

              ”Your first paragraph neatly sums up my point about how you judge any kind of alternative thinking ”

              Wrong.. its like mining. Going through your dross to find out what your proposition is.

              ‘A great description of trolling too … with its violent imagery.”

              That’s my point exactly. Look around if you want trolling:

              ”togs….togs…togs…togd…..UNDIES. UNDIES, UNDIES…”.

              .”I noticed your swimsuit but didn’t really want to point it out …”

              Please do, it’s called debate.

      • Corky

         /  February 11, 2018

        Why would such a media platform need to be involved with corporates. Why not by bypass them. This is a new technological age.

        ”Your Mikey Hosking is a hooker …”

        Well, no. Mikey’s opinion stands on its own, no matter who is paying him. Either he’s right or wrong. From what I have seen he’s usually right. Where you may have a point is mainstream media has a very narrow ”terms of reference,” so to speak

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  February 11, 2018

          Mainstream media has strictly corporate-capitalist ‘terms of reference’ for which Mikey is a very highly paid mouthpiece …

          We actually don’t know what he’d say if, for instance, NZPTV suddenly became “the highest bidder” for his services …?

          He’s a ‘pro’ …

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  February 11, 2018

            That is all irrelevant to his opinion. It’s either right or wrong. I can’t see Mikey being any different given a choice.

            He lives in a nice part of Auckland, drives a flash car, has the stereo typical blended upper middle class whanau and dresses in designer clothes.

            Do you think he would suddenly change to spouting ” I hate da filfy witch?”

            Reply
            • PartisanZ

               /  February 11, 2018

              To be honest I don’t give a fuck about Mikey … I just used him as an example of ‘celebrity’ …

              His symbols of status obviously mean a lot to you though … ?

              Bryan Bruce doesn’t spout what you say. No intelligent liberal progressive commentator does … so that’s BULLSHIT!

              If he was paid enough I think Mikey might do anything. Who says he’s not more ‘actor’ than die-hard, hard-core Rightie?

              His symbols of status mean fuck all.

            • Corky

               /  February 11, 2018

              ”To be honest I don’t give a fuck about Mikey … I just used him as an example of ‘celebrity’ …

              To be truthful, neither do I. But I do respect his opinions because I have found them usually right on the money.

              But the most important function I have for Mikey is he’s a great barometer for what is happening under the surface of Leftie’s opinions and lives. He brings the toxins to the surface. I have quoted your first paragraph. I will now quote your last sentence.

              ”His symbols of status mean fuck all.”

              You couldn’t contain yourself, Parti.

            • Corky

               /  February 11, 2018

              * Paragraph*

            • PartisanZ

               /  February 11, 2018

              Seems Mikey’s in-depth, riveting analyses of things are popular with folk on here …

              If I was Alan I’d call them …

        • PartisanZ

           /  February 11, 2018

          Also … no single person’s opinion is ever “either right or wrong” … Life’s an ongoing dialogue … or perhaps multilogue (new word #141) …

          What we can safely say about Mike Hookings is he’s Right and he thinks he’s right all the time …

          Democracy as we know it is more like a monologue with occasional, strictly limited dialogue … when it should be a populogue (new word #142) …

          Reply
          • Corky

             /  February 11, 2018

            ”Also … no single person’s opinion is ever “either right or wrong”

            It is if that opinion contains a truism, states a prediction that turns out to be correct.

            Reply
            • PartisanZ

               /  February 11, 2018

              There are better and worse opinions … but seldom if ever wholly right or wrong ones …

              A “truism” is like shrapnel from an opinion …

              Mikey’s a lot like Cam Slater IMHO … although I’d rather vomit than listen to either of them …

  4. Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  February 11, 2018

      Wonder if it will be the end of Lance’s contributions. Never impressed me.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  February 11, 2018

        During the term of the 5th Labour government, NBR produced a feature called Crony Watch, which it intended to report on cronyism in government. The feature was discontinued in late 2008, as the new National government took office, but resumed in 2018 after Nationals term ended, and the 6th Labour government took office.

        Reply
        • PartisanZ

           /  February 11, 2018

          Well spotted Gezza …

          Reply
        • duperez

           /  February 11, 2018

          You reckon that being a keen observer of politics and the media we can expect to see David Farrar do a feature on this? 🙂

          Reply
  5. David

     /  February 11, 2018

    Well, this explains Lizzie Marvelly….

    Reply

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