Analysis of media issues, politics and current events.
What have been the biggest media stories cable news brought to us this year?
How could we forget? I’m sure everyone remembers just where they were when they heard shocking details of whom put a dog on the roof, who ate a dog and who shouldn’t be on a jet ski. Critical issues to be sure in a world faced with recession, debt, financial scandals, wars and broken government.
And the one actual political news story covered with true consequences, The Supreme Court’s health care ruling. A story that two cable news stations didn’t even get right because apparently the people whose job it is to write about issues somehow forgot how to read and accurately report on a document they were holding in their hands. Or the Travyon Martin case, where media outlets found themselves coming to premature conclusions and becoming more advocates for one side or the other than being reporters covering a story. A story, so poorly reported, the revealed facts of case have seemed to embarrass news organizations on both sides of the story.
Overall the trend is that news, particularly cable news’ arrival on the scene, actually seem to make understanding issues more confusing than clearer. Often because it lingers on an argument and speculation more than a broader outline or honest search for the facts to provide clarity. For me personally, cable news now seems the last place to go if I want to actually understand any topic. It’s more like a bar you can go to commiserate with fellow media viewers who share your views.
Perhaps that’s why a report last week from Gallop says media trust is at an all time low. Just 21% of Americans have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news, according to the survey.
There’s another measurement as well. Cable news ratings. April was CNN lowest ratings month in a decade. May was even worse for CNN with ratings at 20-year lows. With shows from John King, Piers Morgan, Erin Burnett, Soledad O’Brien affected down the line. MSNBC’s May ratings dropped by half. Fox News dropped 21 percent in its prime-time line up. Especially in Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren shows. And as comedy is usually reflective of the public mood, it’s not a surprise, Jimmy Kimmel makes fun of the state of news.
It’s clear. Less people like me are simply not watching TV based news anymore.
Why? One that isn’t measurable is that the extended circus-like atmosphere of politics and news converge this year that has simply exhausted viewers. Particularly the Republican Primaries that people felt dragged on far too long. And ad nauseam coverage of insipid stories. That’s one part. But there’s another part.
Let’s admit it. All the cable news companies have given up on being the news. And this year’s wall-to-wall silly season coverage of hyped coverage of petty issues is just the nail in the coffin. They want to keep the title “news” but not do the work news demands. They could investigate stories, do fact checking. But if they audience is equally happy watching a YouTube video of a dog riding a skateboard, that works, too.
Simply delivered, even-keeled facts often conflict with higher ratings. Many of us have know that. I even wrote a book about it. “Does This News Make Me Look Fat?” But now, I think we are reaching a tipping point where a majority of viewers don’t see cable news as news anymore. Except on real-time-just-point-the-camera issues.
I think that’s why you are also seeing the decline of the stop-gap measure news organizations put in place to stop the decline of hard news viewership: personality journalism. The age of the Keith Olbermanns, Anderson Coopers, Bill O’Reillys and other personalities whose style and connections with their audiences were a stand in for the declining trust in news overall are now withering as well. Most of these people are now the face of the shouting matches that pass for news. Now I think viewers also blame them as part of the problem instead of turning to them as an honest broker of reputable news. None of these people report news anymore. Rather they perform a form a free-flow talk. Branded opinion.
Now many more or coming to see news channels are all now the ear benders who either gossips about what he’s or gives you his opinion how things should be. That’s all well and good more the partisan news junkie, or those who like to be simply entertained. But what about those of us who want substantive information? We’ve left the cable news arena for the Internet or forums with news more details and less speculation on a story.
And some point, even the partisan junkies may abandon the news stations because they don’t find you partisan enough. So they’ll leave for those who are willing to yell harder, more crass and more uncompromising. Confusing partisanship for someone “telling it like it is.” That’s why you’re seeing the rise of the Glenn Beck TVs, AlterNet and other groups with hermetically sealed media content environment to keep inconvenient truths out. The suburbs of thought. Protection from the “city” of diverse thinking.
It’s a media that’s creating more heat than light. And people are taking a brake from it because they are feeling burned by the heat. This is a more serious issue for news whose long-term future is being eroded by short terms gains of circus-level news coverage and pops in ratings that sacrifice trust, little by little. Story by story. Like a relationship, once trust is lost. People can walk away an not come back. And right now Gallop says a lot of people don’t trust you.