I am a news junkie. Always have been. I used to spend a huge amount of time watching TV, a great deal of this checking out the news. But not any more. It’s junk! Now I spend the majority of my TV time watching reruns of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and copiously avoiding reality television shows.

I came across a quote from Chet Huntley some time back. He was talking about the limitations of television news and how if a story didn’t have a strong visual component, it would not make it onto the nightly news:

“Stories on corporate crime, consumer fraud and price fixing rarely get the attention that street crime does, even though those crimes are far more serious and affect many more people. The reason is simple: Stories about banks robbing people cannot be made as ‘entertaining’ as footage of people robbing banks.”

And so, the blogosphere is packed with endless stories about how the ‘Mainstream Media’ is covering this and not covering that. I have always relied upon newspapers for the bulk of my information, but many of them are dropping the ball too. And so, my daily reading list on the web grows longer and longer.

In Sudney Lumet’s 1976 movie, Network, there is an exchange between the Chaney and Hackett characters that I’m willing to bet happens every day on a TV news programme somewhere …

Chaney: All I know is that this violates every canon of respectable broadcasting.
Hackett: We’re not a respectable network. We’re a whorehouse network, and we have to take whatever we can get.
Chaney: Well, I don’t want any part of it. I don’t fancy myself the president of a whorehouse.
Hackett: That’s very commendable of you, Nelson. Now sit down. Your indignation is duly noted; you can always resign tomorrow.

James L. Brooks covered this in his wonderful Broadcast News in 1987. Aaron (Albert Brooks) is explaining to Jane (Holly Hunter) why the new, clueless, news anchor is such a bad guy:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red pointy tail. … He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing. He will just, bit by little bit, lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance … just a tiny bit.”

Commercially driven news now exists to sell itself. Full stop. They will argue until the cows come home that this is not the case, but the facts speak for themselves. And so, it has come to pass that relying upon the old, previously reliable, news media as a source of hard information to base your career and professional decisions on is now very definitely a baaad idea. If you are reading this, you are at least somewhat web literate. Get more web literate. Your bookmarks folder should be expanding all the time. I now try to set aside a little time every few weeks to cluster and edit my bookmarks so that I can keep afloat in the deluge of information that is now available.