Thursday, July 7, 2011

Just Because You Can Report it, Doesn’t Mean You Should…

So, I’ve blogged a few times about the speed at which technology moves and how we, as humans, have become far less patient over time because we’ve got used to things moving so fast.

Nowadays, we don’t have to wait for much. In the ‘olden days’ people used to find out their news via word of mouth or, more likely, via the newspaper. Readers used to pour over their newspaper each morning to find out what was going on in the world. Then TV news became popular and people started watching that to find out what was going on. It was a little quicker and the news was freshly reported.

Nowadays, though we still have newspapers and TV news, we also have the internet. You can find what seems to be an infinite number of places to read news online. You can choose the category of news you want to read. It’s a virtual way of thumbing through a newspaper and pulling out only the sections you enjoy reading.

It’s quite useful, really. We no longer have to wait for breaking news to pop on TV with the verdict in a sensational trial or to find out there’s been a mass shooting or natural disaster. All you have to do is click on or or and the headlines can be right there, tempting you to click on the link and read the latest.

It’s a nice feature. It satiates our need for instant gratification. News is posted only seconds after it happens.

Yet, as with so many things in life, here’s a downside. It means that for every useful, worthy piece of news, there’s a lot of junk that goes with it.

For example, let’s just take something current: The Casey Anthony trial. What’s relevant in that news should be the verdict of a trial that’s been going on a while. A little girl died. Her mother was accused. A trial occurred. The jury deliberated. The verdict was reached.

This is the basics of what should be reported. Instead, the internet is saturated with everything from Jay Leno’s bad jokes about the trial to comments from jurors to editorials about why the jurors are idiots, why Casey should get murdered and why her parents are evil.

Today, I was on MSN’s main page. I got there because I sent an email from my Hotmail account and when I log out, this is the default page. I was assaulted by headlines. Yesterday, there was a story focuses on one of the alternate jurors who defended the verdict. Today, there was a story with an actual juror who defended the verdict. Except, they were the exact same article, the lead was different, the headline was different.

Why did I click on it, you ask? Because I couldn’t help it. I was curious. As a human being, it’s interesting to a) form an opinion and then b) have the tools to find out if you’re the only one to have this opinion. In addition, it’s interesting to see what other opinions/news is out there because it’s in my nature to be curious and get all the facts.

Except, the news stories that are popping up aren’t really facts as much as filler. The legal case is hot news so the internet resources are capitalizing on that. Even Entertainment Weekly has a lot of stories on the Casey Anthony case even though, technically, it’s an entertainment magazine and doesn’t really need to focus on current affairs.

What I’m saying is that I think we tend to abuse the instant nature of technology. I confess, I’m an enabler because I do click on a lot of the links because I’m being lured in by the promise of something interesting when, nine times out of ten, there’s nothing new, just more recycled information.

What I think about Casey Anthony doesn’t matter here or anywhere. I’m just using it as an example because it’s new and it’s current.

It’s not just oversaturation of the media with news stories that’s a problem. It’s the fact that some things just aren’t news worthy but they end up getting an article/blog anyway because there’s a precedent to ‘keep up with the joneses” as far as the internet goes.

This means, in short, that there’s a lot of absolute, ridiculous crap that masquerades as news. This is the stuff I don’t click on. For example, today, I saw a headline “Worst Celebrity Sunburns.”

Um, no offense to the poor burned celebrities but, who cares? I’m sure the intention was to show ‘celebrities are just like us’. We get sunburned, they get sunburned. WOW!

Except, again, who cares? Do we really need that? It’s just like an article the other day that I saw on several magazine sites about an actress cutting four-inches off her hair.

Again, who cares? I’m sure it was a big change for the actress but do we really need to know that? Do we really need headlines all over the internet telling how Natalie Portman has finally told the world the name of her baby. I’m happy for Natalie and her boyfriend. I’m more happy for the baby that it has a name because that makes life easier for everyone. Sure, it’s a bit of news, I suppose but does it really rate as many links online as…real news?

Then there’s Charlie Sheen. I find him just ridiculous, honestly. I never thought he was much of an actor and while I find his whole drug-addled meltdown slightly fascinating from a psychological point of view, I think that if the media didn’t report every idiotic thing he said and did, he might stop doing them and get some help for his drug problem.

Generally speaking, most celebrities thrive in the spotlight. They like attention. They do silly things for attention. Sometimes, because of the blur between reality and slanted media coverage, we tend to forget they’re human beings. Take Lindsay Lohan. Everything that girl does is covered by the media whether genuine news or paparazzi-fueled rubbish. I think she’s made some terrible choices. She’s got terrible parents. Frankly, she sort of makes me want to take a shower because, well, she has that effect.

Yet, she has a problem. She’s clearly an alcoholic. Her attempts at rehab have all been spotlighted in the constant presence of the internet news/paparazzi sites. How can she ever attempt to get real help for her problem when she can’t do it in private? She likes the attention, I’m sure that’s part of the reason she’s always doing silly things. Yet she doesn’t seem to have anyone sensible around her to tell her to drop out the public eye, get some real help and work on reconstructing her life.

I’m soapboxing, I know. I apologize. My real point is this: Just because it could be news doesn’t mean it should be. I think every site online that reports news should be forced to run their stories through a filter consisting of the following questions:

1) Is it really news?
2) If it is really news, what is the who, why, what, when, where and how of it?
3) If those five W’s and the H aren’t there, it’s not news. It might be a feature article.
4) If they are there, have they been the same for a story of the same topic in recent days/hours/minutes?
5) If it’s a feature article, is it something that people NEED to know? Will it benefit their life at all to see, for example, Jennifer Anniston with a sunburn?

I’m sure there are more questions but that’ll do for a start. Of course, I can help contribute to the cleaning up of internet news junk by not bothering to read it.

Which is why I refuse to read about sunburns, haircuts, jilted celebrities and who said what about Casey Anthony.

You have to start somewhere, right?

Thanks for letting me rant.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

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