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.