I took the Huffington Post off of my homepage today for the third time. I had it at the bottom next to Fox News, in a half-assed bid to provide me with some insight into what are supposedly the two prevailing ideologies in America. Fox News rarely disappoints me in providing an accurate account of what conservatives will be saying in the next week, but not so with the Huffington Post.
Instead, I see a lot of celebrity news which I couldn’t possibly care less about and empty, useless stories like the top one right now: “International Pillow Fight 2011 in Union Square (PHOTOS).” What’s odd is… the only news feed on my homepage which has about the same amount of celebrity gossip and non-news worthy articles is… Fox News.
I’m told these are the two biggest news sites for conservatives and liberals, respectively, and that they represent diametrically opposed viewpoints. If only these two groups saw how much they have in common… how they seem to salivate at the thought of a celebrity being caught doing… well, anything, really… and how they need to take regular breaks from real news to read about how “Adriana Lima Reveals Struggle to Lose Pregnancy Pounds” or “Sploshing: A Wet and Messy Fetish.”
And while it’s somewhat of a tangent, I find that the Huffington Post is largely unbiased (when it is actually reporting news, or rather, linking to it), while Fox News online is less overt than I think most liberals imagine. Bias is noticeably less pervasive in print than on their TV channel, and when there is bias, it tends to be in the form of framing the debate in a right-leaning fashion (e.g. headlines like “Should Obama Resign?” succeed in planting an idea which would be more obviously biased if said as a statement, not asked as a question).
It’s strange, really, that the largest quantity of people don’t make use of quality. The Huffington Post and Fox News are sort of like McDonalds and Bud Light: they may be the most popular and consumed product in their category, but they are just awful examples of food and beer.
You can pinpoint the simple reasons for the above two examples: they are ubiquitous and therefore easy to find, and they are inexpensive and attainable by people of nearly any means. There are plenty of other reasons as well, from advertising to reputation. I couldn’t tell you which were most important, but the bottom line is: success in the marketplace does not equate to success from the standpoint of value or merit.
Decent news sources have a higher cost, even when they are free online (though what I would say that many of the best require a subscription). I’m not talking about most of the news outlets, either. The best sources for most information I want to read about comes from peer reviewed journals. Most people can’t afford to pay attention to them long enough to learn anything, so they stick to being spoonfed idiocy elsewhere.
Having a wife who works in academia, having worked in editing technical literature, and after seeing the rigorous process for selecting submissions for publication, I can honestly say that I find regular news to be a cackling aviary of speculative squawking. Other than shedding some light on where people are coming up with the empty drivel they spew all over their blogs, I have no use for most news publications.
For one thing, whenever any new research is covered in the news, these scientifically illiterate journalists who are hellbent on finding some sensational story to get their words in print will methodically twist the results of a study into some ground-breaking, establishment crumbling, convention shattering exposé. Well, that or confirm some commonly held bias.
The truth is, you shouldn’t even bother reading a story about research in a newspaper or online article. Unless you read the original study, you’re reading something that has been filtered through an idiot, and I use that term in the original Greek sense of the word, meaning layperson with no technical expertise. They’re probably also a dolt, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
I think part of the problem came with the creation of CNN and the 24 hour news cycle. Part of this celebrity obsession is beyond the need to temper news with entertainment, and it goes into the problem that there simply isn’t 24 hours worth of news in every day. This produces the need to create news where there isn’t any. So we get to find out about every little detail of every B list celebrity, and even the “boring” news get airtime… but not before getting spiced up.
I think another big part of the problem is the ratings hunt. The news is competing for your time with basically every distraction on the planet. When you aim to cater to the lowest common denominator in order to garner the most viewers and web surfers… let’s just say the content suffers (though not as much as I do when watching or reading it).
I liken it a bit to what happened to MTV: music videos are nice and all, but their shows like “Beavis and Butthead” and “The Real World” got the highest ratings… before you know it, they don’t even play music videos on MTV anymore and they make a new channel, MTV2, which claims to do what MTV used to do… until it too got poor ratings, and now it too is largely dominated by non-music content.
Most news outlets don’t provide much real news. At some point, are we going to be able to sue these companies for false advertising?