Opinion: Infotainment – Entertainment becomes news


Rachel Godin is a junior magazine journalism major and columnist for The Daily Kent Stater.  Contact her at [email protected]  

Rachel Godin

Are borders making what is considered news and what is considered entertainment a thing of mass media past? Sandwiched between crisis and catastrophe, blips of unnecessary pop culture content are becoming common and accepted filler. Mainstream news’ tendency to bypass weeding the garbage from the gold is contributing to the overwhelming obsession with celebrity culture.  Motives to increase ratings and improve advertising undermine their pertinent content, while confusing populations by placing uncivil celebrities next to the war in Syria on the newsroom script. This stew of questionable journalistic morality has resulted in the unhealthy merging of opposing journalistic ideas.

Hard news was not designed to be spectacular and necessarily pleasant, but rather, was formed as a tool through which information could flow freely, connecting people in a localized way. In truth, news is meant to be appealing enough to maintain viewership. Ideally, these goals would be attained by hiring only the most passionate journalist professionals and focusing on stories with real guts. It is not ABC, CNN or MSNBC’s job to entertain the public; that is what shows like E! News are for.

Debates over what is newsworthy enough to be broadcast on public television can even put a newsroom at odds. A wonderful example of this occurred in 2007 when MSNBC news woman Mika Brzezinski refused, on live television, to anchor a lead story on Paris Hilton. She begins the segment with a sincere apology for the ridiculousness of the lead story and proceeds to skip over it to an important story about downsizing military in Iraq. Halfway through the first sentence of the political issue, she is rudely interrupted by her brute co-host who tauntingly says: “Oh, she’s not a journalist anymore.” Standing her ground, she proceeds to crumple her script into a ball and then, when her producers print it out and set it on the desk in front of her for a second time, she puts the script through the shredder. Any true journalist would question the content, respect the intelligence of her audiences and uphold her reputation. This journalist represents the traditional value that news and entertainment should not interact in the same setting.

Is entertaining the topic of popular and celebrity culture justify a means to an end? Attempts to appeal to popular, less meaningful aspects of social life is a fool-proof method to captivate the attention of individuals who wouldn’t have normally been a target audience. Entertainment-fringed news also allows the news source to extend its reaches into spheres of social media where eager viewers will continue communication by sharing his or her links. Following Justin Bieber’s arrest, political and entertainment columnist Joe Concha agreed that mixing such oppositional subject matter was not responsible journalism. He also said that these recurring acts of pseudo-news are successful and justifiable. Advertising creates the profit of media; more viewers means more advertisers, which means more money, thus content quality is compromised for the “greater good” of reaching more viewers.

In a Fox News segment after Bieber’s arrest, the anchor asked Concha if this celebrity coverage was wrong, and Concha said: “It depends on how you define wrong…it depends on the appetite of the audience.” If America hungers for a lead story on a young, rebellious drag racer rather than anything else, then shame on us. We can get pop culture anywhere at any time. News should provide us with what we cannot gain from typical internet browsing: deeper coverage of issues that matter. So media, engage us. Challenge us. Our society will be better off for it.