Monday, September 13, 2010

I get all my news from the Onion News Network - so should you!

Fake news sites and programs like The Onion or The Daily Show are more popular than ever.  And many folks are, oddly enough, getting their news from these sources.  Why is this?

The Daily Show and The Onion crack me up sometimes.  Not for any political views expressed, but in how they mimic and mock the news industry so well.

On The Daily Show, they send up the standard cable news formats, by providing commentary from "Senior News Analysts" standing in front of green screens with images of various foreign countries or other backdrops.  These comic bits illustrate so effectively how lacking network news is, in terms of real content.  Some journalism major is titled a "Senior Mid-East New Analyst" or some such and is shown, on the ground, in some Arab country that is a thousand miles away from the actual scene of reporting - as if they have a special insight into the news there.

The Onion sends up our obsession with puff celebrity and diet news with its video segments, including its mock-morning show, Today Now! which is so close to reality that many people have inquired of Snopes whether the stories are true.

The Onion also has excellent satire of Sunday magazine supplements, and in its brilliant "Kelly" features - the ubiquitous editorial cartoon.

Both The Onion and The Daily Show highlight, I believe, a need felt by many in this country for real news and information sources - and a strong dissatisfaction with existing news outlets.  As I have noted before, cable news started with the promise of more in-depth and accurate reporting, but has devolved into a continuous loop of the same bland, superficial 22-minute news format that networks use, punctuated by the occasional shouting heads talk-show format.  There is literally no "there" there - no insightful commentary, no in-depth reporting, nothing.  Just tidbits and celebrity gossip, and information that, even if relevant, is lost in the next "news cycle".

People such as myself, are becoming more and more cynical when it comes to mainstream news outlets.  Even newspapers have "dumbed down" their content to the point where it is basically a print version of the 22-minute news cast.  The newspaper business has destroyed its own product, and their only response is to blame the readers for the problem.  You see, we are all a bunch of illiterate ignoramuses who can't appreciate news stories written at a 6-grade level.

Is The Onion sophomoric?  Sometimes.  It started out as a campus satire rag, and sometimes its roots there show through.  But more and more lately, they have been coming up with improved content that really provides some insightful satire on the nature of our media itself - and how we receive our news these days.

Unfortunately, a lot of people simply don't "get" such satire.  They don't understand that a big part of the parody is how the fake story is being reported, not in the story itself, and as a result don't think it is funny.  To such people, the way the network and cable news is reported is not objectionable to them - they can't imagine news being reported in any other way - or that HOW the news is reported affects the content and what you are lead to believe.

Again, I talk about normative cues a lot in this blog - how subtle cues in our society determine  - a lot - how you think and act.  If you can get someone to swallow the premise without question, then you can sell them anything.  And for most people, the premise of cable and television news is that the people reporting are "experts" who have researched their "story" and that the resulting data is authoritative and important.

But what we are actually seeing is that a bunch of amateurs really run these news departments, that they get their data over the wire or internet and just re-report what everyone else is saying - including hearsay, misinformation, and just bad information.  And increasingly, these news outlets are mere shills for political powers (as in Fox News) or to cross-promoted media industries (both Fox and CNN, which are both tied to movie studios and television networks, and not surprisingly, rate their own movies and shows highly).

People aren't as stupid as they look, however.  Even though many folks might not be able to articulate why they are dissatisfied with television news and mega-media newspapers, they have a gut instinct that the product is shoddy and poorly made.  So in increasing numbers, they are walking away from these media outlets as their primary source of news.

For many young people, The Daily Show is their primary source of news.  Depending on your viewpoint, this is either cause for alarm or celebration.  I think the latter.  The kids are alright, you know, and they are probably better informed watching "fake news" than you would be watching Fox or CNN.