Posted by: melissacb | July 21, 2009

Slippery Slope

Question # 2

Soft News can be defined as news that is centered on more individualistic and human interest stories than it is on facts, current events or politics. Soft news lends itself to infotainment and celebrity gossip and is the phrase used when media outlets shift from reporting world events and the movements of governments to soft social tid-bits and are centered on entertainment and the personal lives of politicians and celebrities. This is in contrast to hard news, which would be defined as the facts and events reported on news outlets on governments and nations. I believe it can be said that if the media continues its tendency for soft news reporting, it will be at the overall expense of the American people.
It can be seen everywhere from nightly news to presidential debates. News networks time and time again cave into this ideas of viewer fatigue in which the average American is sick of watching hard hitting journalistic attempts at the facts and realities of the world and instead would prefer to soften it up with a piece on Michelle Obama’s upper arms. The First Families new dog took headlines for over a week. People are more inclined to watch if they are not being made to feel badly about themselves, scared to go outside, worried about their livelihood or if they are being entertained. Like when a presidential campaign comes around and people are more concerned with a candidate’s religious tendencies or personal faults then they are with their voting history or governmental experience. As seen in the blog posting entitled Pay No Attention to the Media Behind the Curtain.
In this article originally found at The American Prospect and written by Paul Waldman, explores the idea that the media spends important and fleeting time dedicated to soft and unnecessary news while creating the perfect escape route for themselves by saying that the people wanted these things addressed. Which came first? The American people finding a presidents lapel pin important? Or was it only important when the media decided to cover it in a national debate for the presidency? It is a fantastic title to the piece because it is a great reference to the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the great and powerful Oz turns out to just be a man pulling strings behind a curtain. It is always a headline about individualistic focuses when the media is reporting on whether or not a candidate was crying at a fundraiser and what that means and thereby detracting from the greater point about education that the candidate was trying to make. And the cycle continues. In the Blog post at:, we are asked the question of how well we knew our two candidates for President of the United States in the 2008 election and of their actual political positions. Kat Kenski is quoted as saying, “It does not appear that much learning about the candidates’ issue positions has taken place during the general election campaign.” People were less able to make an informed decision on the candidates if they relied solely on news networks because there was more talk, punditry, and histories of Sarah Palin and Barak Obama than there was actual addressing of the issues. People struggle to answer the most basic questions of governmental structure and players while there is barely and hesitation in naming American Idols or any other sort of pop culture trivia and I think that news networks tendencies toward soft news are partial contributors to that fact. Furthermore, it could be said that this individualistic approach is part of the reason why people get elected. It is never abut party policies, we tend to elect individuals and the media emphasizes the individual.
Next in the soft news scale is coverage of celebrities and infotainment. The greatest example to date was the overwhelming and all consuming coverage of the death of Michael Jackson that pushed out world events such as Bombings in Spain, 12 British Officials being kidnapped in Iran, progression in the push for healthcare reform and more rioting in Western China. Instead we were force fed everything from assumptions about his death post autopsy and non-professional commentary by people who were just posting videos on youtube (but now have somehow merited time on CNN), all the way to a 3-D presentations of how he died and an Anderson Cooper exclusive on the whereabouts of a chimp that Jackson had once used early in his carrier concluded with a tour of Neverland Ranch courtesy of Matt Lauer. Ironically, but as the trends of history show us, we can look to the court jesters to point out the folly and absurdity of our reporting and obsessions in life. The example to site here is a piece that Jon Stewart did on his satirical news show called The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: But Michael Jackson wasn’t the only soft news abuse. Every day the media spends more time on celebrity happenings and less time on the issues facing us today; and it is at a severe cost.
The move to increased soft news in our nightly news programs has had a very negative influence on the United States. To me, the problem with media today is that they continue to lower the bar by appealing to the lowest common denominator of viewing when it comes to their news reporting. It is their need to fill ratings and the shock and awe tactic that are slowly harming the average American viewer. By continuing to lower the bar the media assists us along a slippery slope toward political apathy and indifference that or democracy will ultimately suffer for. I would suggest that the media gain some backbone and report news despite what is popular or mainstream or else forever lose the integrity that journalism boasts at its most fundamental basics. It is an example of the Uses & Gratification Theory in which the media (in its most extreme case) is just another outlet for amusement. It is my belief that the media has a responsibility to hold themselves above the current voyeuristic-reality-TV-loving average American and demand attention to that which is still extremely relevant to our day to day workings. For the media to fold under this lazy soft news reporting is to sentence the next generations to a democracy that is running on fumes and is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past because they never learned from them.
I know that this seems harsh. And that is because it is. There are just some things that must remain above what most would determine as average. The questions then begin to emerge. How do we end the cycle? People typically do not take part in or go out of their way to learn or demand more than what is given to them. But then the media does nothing to set the bar and moves with the tide of public opinion. So who is letting down whom? I would say that we are both letting down each other. But when a person or a network makes a conscious decision to make reporting and relaying the news and the facts there profession and their business, they are taking on a responsibility that demands more. Today our media has Contingent Effects or more-than-minimal effects on the lives of its viewers. Therefore I think that the media has a responsibility to step up and end the cycle. Pandering to the pop culture infotainment that parades itself as important provides one of the many catalysts of a society to slip further and further away from an active and educated country of citizens to a country of people who had democracy handed to them and then didn’t know what to do with it.
I’m taking a drastic stance in my criticism of media and soft news but I feel the need to be harsh about it because, to me, it feels as if we are on that line between the second wind of a great nation and the fizzling out of a once great nation. I am not saying that the occasional soft news reporting of a major news network is the horseman of the democratic apocalypse because that is ridiculous. But I do think that the constant vigilance and tweaking of these issues is necessary. So we do not become too comfortable and apathetic over time, but now and again tighten the screws of the system so that it doesn’t fall into disrepair. These are the times to strike. The move to soft news has already begun to negatively affect the United States, but it is not too late to correct.


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