XARK 3.0

  • Xark began as a group blog in June 2005 but continues today as founder Dan Conover's primary blog-home. Posts by longtime Xark authors Janet Edens and John Sloop may also appear alongside Dan's here from time to time, depending on whatever.

Xark media

  • ALIENS! SEX! MORE ALIENS! AND DUBYA, TOO! Handcrafted, xarky science fiction, lovingly typeset for your home printer!



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2005

Statcounter has my back

« Worlds Ugliest Dog wears Santas panties with Elves in Christmas Porn Gala | Main | Dick Cheney: Not part of Executive Branch »

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I'm really torn about this in the sense that I'm not sure how the remedy would work, or if the remedy is needed.

First, I could bring out the old chestnut that these stories are obviously interesting to readers/viewers. Chastise me all you want but, outside of the 'baby stories' in that list, I was interested in everything else on it from Britney's meltdown to Jon Benet's fake murderer. Moreover, I would guess that, if these stories were interesting to people, the interest went beyond the story itself and into important questions that lead from the story. For instance, if I take an interest in Brit's meltdown, it's not because I'm interested in her per se, it may be because I'm interested in the thinking about the influence of privilege, the problems with childhool celebrity, the issue of drug addiction. Whatever. The point is, I don't think these are non-stories in the toss off way the author makes them sound. In my mind, the tone comes off with such a tone of elite snobbery (i.e., if I don't find it interesting, no one should) that I have a difficult time taking the critique seriously. That's a somewhat childish reaction on my part, but his tone does make me question why I should be listening to someone who seems to have very little respect for what others find interesting.

Nonetheless, I grant you that there is a concern. The stories he puts up against these "nonstories" are truly appalling. Nonetheless, the very fact that he is able to present them tells me that this problem--if it is a problem--won't be solved given his solutions. Here's the deal: I had heard of each of the stories he presents, and I had heard of them through probably some of the same sources from which he draws them. Were they widespread news? No? Why? I'm not sure. However, is the solution to argue that "We deserve better and must remedy this situation by building tax supported independent media and returning investigative reporting to the American people."

OK, so I provide tax supported media that also reports these stories. I would still argue that, as long as news in general relies on the political economy, we would still have those top ten stories as the top ten stories. Simply put, those stories are easy listening. While it's a problem that people want easy listening stories, I don't think the solution is "tax supported independent media."

Just don't ask me what the solution should be.


Project Censored is more than just a list of Junk Food News -- but putting things in a Top 10 list gets attention.

The point isn't that we shouldn't HAVE these stories -- it's that we're disproportionately assigning mass-media resources to covering junk news -- infotainment -- at the expense of stories that affect people.

On the Web, where bandwidth approaches infinity, we select our own menu of preferences. But think back to 2005, pre-Katrina, when the Bush administration was beginning to unravel but the mainstream media was still hesitant to appear critical of him: Plamegate, Abu Ghraib, the growing knowledge that Iraq was a disaster. And what was the media covering? A missing blonde teenager on some forgettable island.

Katrina and the obvious incompetency that followed made it OK for media to be critical of the administration, because it gave them public support for confrontation with the White House. But the idea that news is stuff that's of substance is in retreat.

The odd thing to me is, I think people are starting to get that. There's a backlash against the coverage of Paris Hilton that's important in the sense that it signals there are limits to this cycle (media pays attention to shallow, trivial people, making them celebrities, making them famous, making them interesting, then says "we cover them because people are interested in them," as if the constant media coverage has nothing to do with that interest).

I think there's a place for this stuff. It's called TMZ.com and the E-Channel. Get as much as you want. You want to run briefs about these people in your paper? OK. But metro dailies are pandering to celebrity news on their fronts and in their promotional spots because they foolishly think this is what sells papers.

Ultimately, what sells news is the sense that the product is worth what consuming it costs you in money and time and attention. When you continually trivialize your product out of a condescending misunderstanding of your audience, your future isn't going to look very promising.


DAN says: Ultimately, what sells news is the sense that the product is worth what consuming it costs you in money and time and attention. When you continually trivialize your product out of a condescending misunderstanding of your audience, your future isn't going to look very promising.

OK, but here's the question: let's say we set up an imaginary world in which every city had two functional daily papers--both morning papers. Let's have one cover exist just as most newspapers now do, covering all those stories, and one not covering stories about missing girls on forgettable islands. Which paper survives?

I don't know; I'm just asking but I'm guessing that in the long run, we would end up running back toward celebrity news. It's cheap and fun (NOTE: I'm not endorsing this attitude. I just don't think the solution of a "tax payer" sponsored indepedent news service is the answer).

Besides, is it a "condescending misunderstanding of your audience," or is it an accurate understanding of SOME of your audience . . . the ones most likely to sit at home and watch television?


I was wondering why you kept talking about taxpayer-supported news until I went back and checked and there it is, in the post I linked to, down at the bottom: a call for taxpayer-supported independent media.

Which, for the record, I don't support.

If you're taxpayer supported, how are you independent?

I think there should be multiple models for the structures that "do" news: corporate; private ownership; profit; non-profit; top-down; bottom-up; advocacy; "objective."

And if you wanted to do something that was publicly funded (and therefore, publicly regulated), then I think a better model than PBS and NPR might be something based on the way we handle public utilities. Quality information -- like electricity and safe drinking water -- is essential to our economy. Too important, one might add, to leave completely to the market.

Even that wouldn't be "taxpayer" funded, but if you required that every ISP, radio station and TV channel pay some kind of "news fee" as part of their licensing, then the cost of that fee would be passed along to consumers as a business cost. Hence you'd need some kind of utility-style regulation on what was done with the money.

That's only slightly less political than what would happen if you did straight taxpayer funding, but if you narrowed the focus of what was done with that money, it could serve as primary source material for all sorts of media, including blogs, Internet radio and TV "channels," "public interest databases," etc.

But what I see as being the natural inheritors of "news of substance" are the public-interest watchdog/advocacy groups; not-for-profit local news cooperatives and hyperlocal sites; and subscription-based news services that act more like intelligence agencies than traditional news organizations.

My answer to your hypothetical may surprise you: Depending on the market and the quality of the staff, I think the "news of substance" paper stands an excellent chance of beating the junk food news paper. Reason: TV is a better medium for junk food news, and the people who are most susceptible to it aren't readers anyway. A newspaper is now an optional media choice for most people, and you're not going to attract them to pay for the stuff they already get better and for free elsewhere.

Note that I'm not saying that newspapers should put embargoes on Paris Hilton news. I'm just saying that metro newspapers are struggling to find a voice right now, and many have gone too toward celebrity news and trivial local stories with extremely limited audiences and reversed economies of scale.

When you buy a newspaper, what you're actually paying for is THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING INFORMED. Is that how you feel when you finish reading your local daily?


Sure, most of us, if truthful, would admit we are mildly interested in larger-than-life dramas. But I don't know many people who go to the obssessive extreme the media feels is appropriate. Geezus, who could possibly care about Paris Hilton that much and still be a functional human being?! Please, get help somewhere.

Like Dan says, those stories are unavoidable unless you are "Lost." Media companies use their number of "hits" or "viewers" or "copies sold" to persuade themselves that they are only giving people what they want. I know about Hilton's jail woes because I can't help it, not because I want to.

(Plus, as my brilliant sister pointed out: Years of playing these kinds of stories so loud and proud has taught lots of people that this information is what's important, this is what our culture values. We're supposed to know and care and be able to talk about Paris and Britney.)

As for the either/or experiment,I'll weigh in with Dan: It's fallacious to say it has to be celebrity news or war stories. You'll still find "Mother Jones" and "Time" in supermarkets next to "People." There's room for both.

The problem is that the ad naseum coverage is increasingly instead of rather than in addition to, you know, all that boring stuff the founding fathers were pondering when they wrote press protection into the Constitution.

Media may be just about profit and giving people what they want. Journalism has a purpose beyond pandering.Or, at least, it used to.

The comments to this entry are closed.