Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Decline of CNN and Hard News

In our country, our news is delivered largely by for-profit media businesses. Their reporting is driven by the need to attract customers, i.e., readers, viewers, listeners. I’ve been worried for a while whether that model is compatible with the need for a well-informed citizenry. We as an electorate need to know what is going on in the world, in our country and in our communities so that we can form prudent opinions about policy and cast our ballots accordingly. But in the current age, we just aren’t getting enough information.

People blame the media, but in a for-profit model, the news outlets give us what we are most inclined to consume. If we prefer reading rumors about Jennifer Anniston’s love life or watching a report on a chain-smoking baby, that is the sort of thing the media will try to give us more frequently. By comparison, if we don’t tune in to learn more about the current humanitarian crisis along the Kenya-Somalia border or the structural issues causing unsustainable increases in our health care costs, then news outlets won’t give us as much of that. They give us what we’ll consume. And besides, it is more expensive to send reporters to remote regions in Africa or to investigate complicated economic issues than it is to pay some paparazzi to stalk celebrities.

I’m not saying that government funded media is the solution. Certainly, that approach has its own set of issues. But the profit-driven media approach we have is problematic and flawed.

I was particularly reminded of that point recently when I listened to an NPR report on the plight of CNN. The report is available at the following link:

Our family canceled cable years ago and we don’t watch much TV except when we travel. I hadn’t realized that CNN’s ratings have become a casualty of the clash of the Fox News and MSNBC echo chambers. Per the report, CNN has tried to stay neutral and focus on actual reporting. Their forte is apparently delivering news. But apparently people aren’t tuning in for that. They would rather opt for the loud, bombastic talking heads of Fox News and MSNBC.

This really depresses me. As consumers of news and as citizens of the world’s oldest modern democracy, we can’t allow this situation to continue. We are so incredibly fortunate to live in our country. With great blessings come great responsibility.

Luke 12:48

“For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

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