Gross gossip becoming mainstream media theme
It was the broken moment of silence heard round the world.
Several national television networks broadcast live the annual moment of silence for the 9/11 attacks on this month’s anniversary. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama appeared publicly to commemorate the moment with the rest of the country. NBC broadcast the moment as well but chose to cut away during it to an interview with Kardashian mom, Kris Jenner — about breast implants.
As nauseating as I think this move was, I can’t say that I’m shocked. NBC’s poor choice went viral and made headlines for nearly a week after. But the mistake was really just a small slice of what the American news industry has become: an industry in which the line between real news and celebrity gossip is very fine and very blurry.
Obviously many felt it was inappropriate of NBC to cut into an interview during the moment of silence — especially to an interview with a reality TV star. Jenner is famous for nothing but being on a reality show with her even more famous children, who garner even more (and by more I mean constant) media attention. Oddly enough, the Kardashian klan seems to sit right at the nucleus of this growing problem in the news industry and showcases the issue perfectly; the whole family is famous for being on a reality show, which it was offered after the release of Kim Kardashian’s infamous Internet sex tape. And now, a few years later, Kardashian has a whole slew of articles dedicated to her not just in the National Enquirer, but in The New York Times.
Maybe D.L. Stewart with the Springfield Sun-Times said it best: “What once were little more than appetizing tidbits in Hollywood rags read mostly by teenage girls now have become the fast-food entrees of all media.”
It makes sense that every once in a while, a news story involving a celebrity crosses over into serious news. Some stories are more than just juicy gossip. The Arnold Schwarzenegger scandal was juicy, but it also involved a political figure, who married into a political powerhouse family that is basically American royalty. Bill Clinton scandal? It was also a big deal; he was the president. Take any other politician cheating scandal (John Edwards, for instance). As sensational as the scandals may be, each probably does affect a lot of voter decisions and is, therefore, worth talking about. A lot of celebrity stories also become platforms for further exploration of real issues. The Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal, for instance, generated a lot of other stories on domestic abuse. And when legends like Michael Jackson die, especially of something other than old age, it’s definitely worth noting, even commemorating (although, the excessive amount of coverage on that could be a whole ‘nother blog post).
Some of these stories may have been somewhat questionable, but they at least still contain some thread of serious appeal. But that doesn’t apply to Britney Spears’ personal life or Lindsay Lohan and her numerous arrests. Lohan’s latest arrest was top news on the Fox News and CNN websites.
As a self-proclaimed pop culture junkie, I plead guilty to being somewhat interested in this trash occasionally, but I still don’t think Brangelina’s newest baby deserves to be placed next to a story on Obamacare. And Kris Jenner has no business interrupting a 9/11 commemorative moment. While these stories have an audience, they also have a proper forum like Us Weekly or People magazine. Interestingly enough, People is owned by Time magazine and is supposed to be the offshoot containing more celebrity stories, but somehow Tom Cruise’s personal life has ended up on the front cover of both, more than once.
To be fair to newspapers and magazines, it’s a rough climate with competition for readers and advertisers from all kinds of news sources. Unfortunately, juicy is often what gets attention and sells copies (just ask Newsweek). Perhaps news outlets are just trying to generate readership and keep their publications operating. But by using junk news to do so, I think they sacrifice credibility as well as the trust of loyal readers who come to them for information about real stuff. I also think that supplying the demand for these kinds of stories only generates more demand and decreases interest in more important matters. Catering to this demand is selling out in its purest form and contradicts the very purpose of journalism itself: to educate, to tell people things they didn’t know but should.
News media can’t force reader interest. But rather than deciding to cave and publish tabloid trash anyway, the media should not use the changing industry dynamic as an excuse for lowering standards. Instead it should be an opportunity to raise standards. The media must find new ways to attract readers to stories that are valuable to them and that they should care about — even if they don’t realize it because they’re too busy keeping up with the Kardashians.