The question came up in regards to last week’s Newsroom episode, “Amen,” as to whether media’s largest obligation is to inform or to entertain?
My initial reaction when asked was, “absolutely inform.” I mean, why else would there be freedom of the press other than to make sure that the people were informed on issues that are paramount to the evolution of our country? However, then I started thinking about the dissection of media and realized that that was a knee-jerk, idealized reaction to what I hope people are interested in when they go to their media, Twitter, Facebook, etc looking to connect.
(Luckily this all happened over text so and I didn’t end up sending my initial immediate reaction and have to dig my self out. As is too often the case.)
Instead what this episode of Newsroom dealt with was that there is such a difference between Media and Journalism and it’s when those lines become blurred that the problem becomes apparent. Its point, also, was that the line is actually blurred to the point that Ray Charles has as good a chance differentiating as you or I do… and he’s dead.
The quick rundown is that Will McAvoy is being bombarded by a TMZ-like outlet in an effort to get him to screw up so that his company can fire him without it suffering immense backlash. (Neat when the bad guys are the rich, corrupt people, right? Cause they’re always the ones that eat the brains out of puppies and piss on newborns. Anyway…) Will then becomes entangled with one of their columnists and engages in a verbal battle of validity about whether or not what they do (Will and reporter) is the same as far as journalistic integrity goes. Obviously Will wins with a biting diatribe that eventually shakes this woman to her core. Not that she second guesses what she does, but she does realize that she probably fucked with the wrong dude and might even be willing to admit that she’s not a “Capital J” Journalist.
Will’s point — and the point of the show as a whole — is that the people in charge of dispensing the news have a responsibility to deliver it correctly. (I do understand the irony of a show that is purely a commentary supplying that commentary on was once actual news and dealing with the credibility of information. I also realize that I am just as interested in the lives of the characters as I am the news being re-reported, which, essentially, makes me realize that while I have noble morals about what news should be, I am definitely equally interested in the nonsense that has nothing to do with me.)
Journalism should be in our lives purely to inform and help people mature their already formed thoughts with new information that will then (gasp*) perhaps reform those beliefs based on new evidence; whereas Media should be in our lives to entertain. Where it gets tricky is that news from journalists is given to us from the media, so we then take everything as information even if it should only be classified as entertainment. It also doesn’t help that people, journalists specifically, realize that more people will be inclined to be informed if they are entertained. I’m a teacher, I get it. No one wants to be talked to, they want to be inspired and entertained all in the hopes that they may learn something. Mostly though they just want someone to tell them something they can put into conversation and feel a part of the group.
This is why the niche amongst news channels now have a chasm between them as opposed to them all sharing the same story and details before their personalities add an inevitable twist to it: however, people want to know how to feel at the same time they’re learning so that they will then sound informed when they bring up facts in company — this is why staunch personalities succeed on air, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Rush Limbaugh — and since it takes a very secure person to be willing to be wrong, conversation often shifts to the superfluous and focuses on “How far along Snooki is” in stead of having intelligent, informed debate over the budget or foreign affairs.
All that being said, one really needs to look no further than The Daily Show since they marry the two better than anyone in existence. Actual news (for the most part) with honest, often sarcastic, commentary without painting your opinions one way or another. There’s a difference between liking a personality and following their reaction blindly and simply being told the facts with the inconsistencies being forced to stand on their own. When that’s the case, it’s much easier to realize where the information is and how it couples with the entertainment.
In the end, it comes down to the fact that people need to feel in control over what they’re learning, and most often journalism doesn’t allow that because it deals with content that people have very little knowledge of or control over. Which is scary when it matters in terms of who you are and how you live. The natural evolution (devolution?) is then to give more emphasis on the meaningless and condemn whether a couple should birth another child and exploit them for their own benefit on television, for example, in an effort to sound informed. Even though, in actuality, that’s not what matters.
I understand entertainment media as a form of escapism. I read and write with equal amounts of fervor about the Portland Trail Blazers as I do pressing social issues. The difference is understanding which is information for self-betterment, and which will get you an oversized t-shirt as a prize at Trivia Night.