Content: The Race To The Bottom

At some point in the recent past, news shed its skin and became content. This resulted in a few other developments, all of them negative. First, news went from long-form (or at least enough space to tell the story completely as the facts were known at the moment of publication) to short little digests of only the most salacious facts and figures. Now, when you click over to one of those highly satisfying 2,500-word stories in The Atlantic or The New Yorker, you hesitate and ponder whether you really want to commit the "time" to all those words.

Even the stories in the print editions of major papers are a fraction of their former length, perhaps as a function of the dying newspaper economy, but also an attempt to compete with the three-second attention span spawned by the Internet.

The definition of news has broadened to include anything that can get you to stop, look and/or listen. There are sites that try to makes news out of a celebrities walking down the street or dogs making that proverbial 100-mile journey back home. Others try to grab you with lists of crap collected from around the Web and generally shown in sequence in order to rack up more page views. There is nothing newsworthy about any of it, but an invention of someone paid to collect link shares and pickups by social media accounts. The goal is not to inform but to have "viral" bragging rights by appealing to the lowest common cultural denominator in the audience. 



With stories and lists often compiled from various online sources, there is no one acting as a "truth filter" on behalf of readers. That used to be the job of editors with long experience on a particular beat who could, as they called it in the newsprint era, "separate the wheat from the chaff." Now you (or worse still, your kids) are utterly on your own to figure out who is right. Who has a hidden agenda? Who is out to sell us their POV vs. simply providing facts and figures?

Fortunately, most of the crap out there masquerading as news is not of significant consequence to make a difference in your life if what you read is wrong. Celebrities and their insidious comings, goings and activities in front of the camera have become more important than, well, nearly everyone else. There is liable to be as much coverage of Justin Timberlake's views on Syrian retaliation as the Speaker of the House. I, for one, don't give two shits about what movie and television stars have to say about anything -- from nutrition to politics from societal ills to global warming. Shut up and act (and go to rehab). That's all you are qualified to do. (That goes double for professional athletes.)

Everyone feels like they have to compete, so utterly insignificant comments or movements go out over Twitter, where others with no news judgment whatsoever amplify them, making it all the more difficult to find out what is really important. Follow any kind of political campaign and you will see this trend at its finest. It's kind of like local TV news: If they have video, it is news (no matter how many other cats were pulled from trees that week).

Social media content has wormed its way into the nightly news. Snippets of phone videos of adorable zoo animals or kids have gouged out a place in the all-too-precious 22 minutes of network broadcasts where most of America gets its news. For every newborn panda you see, you are NOT seeing something far more important that happened that day. Similarly, citizen tweets are granted an importance far beyond their additive value to the stories they comment on. Just as with celebs, I don't really care what a plumber in the Bronx has to say about, well, anything other than how to fix the sink. Stupid news does not make you more human. It makes your audience more stupid.

It is hard to publish news that people should read vs. what they actually gravitate to. But we suffer as a society when there is this kind of race to the bottom.

1 comment about "Content: The Race To The Bottom".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, September 13, 2013 at 9:47 a.m.

    Good article George, but the ancient Vedic seers saw this coming centuries ago when they observed and concluded that we become our attentions. Besides, how else are we supposed to fill an unlimited bandwidth?

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