Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I get all the news I need from the weather report

(with all due respect and proper credit to Messrs. Simon and Garfunkel)

I've been thinking a lot about the state of reasoned debate in the US. Someone I know who works at CNN has always been fond of pointing out that all the major US media outlets are owned by entertainment companies, and that is one of the reasons news reports have devolved into lurid sideshows. Here is a brief rundown of who owns what:
  • CBS is now a stand-alone company after having gone through acquisition first by Westinghouse then Viacom. Currently they also own Showtime, The Movie Channel, UPN (now known as CW after a merger with WB), Paramount theme parks, and Simon & Schuster publishing.
  • NBC is owned by Universal Studios.
  • ABC is owned by Disney.
  • Fox is owned by News Corp. It's got news in the name, but that's about as far as it goes. News Corp is a huge media conglomerate, owning a total of 37 TV stations, 13 magazines, over 120 newspapers (including New York Post) and a a vast number of Internet companies (including Myspace.com).
  • CNN is a subsidiary of Time Warner.
Complete lists can be found at freepress.net.

Where do you go to get news from a source that isn't driven by the entertainment industry? When a handful of companies control the media, and their primary focus is entertainment rather than intelligent discussion, you end up with the mess we have now. I'd be willing to bet that if I mention the name of Paris Hilton anyone can tell me who she is. How many people have heard of Albert Fert or Peter Gr├╝nberg?

I gave up on traditional news media several years ago. I'm down to watching The Weather Channel long enough to catch the local forecast. Even that has started down the path toward sensationalism, though, so I check the weather online more than I do on the TV.

5 comments:

  1. I agree, but I still read them online, so that I know what other people are talking about. But I also try to include some scientific and religious sources, to get other information/news/pov.

    There is a whole trail of conspiracy theory you can go down with the media conglomerates. But it isn't necessary. Even without the corporate pressure, journalists are just tuned into making an interesting story.

    I learned my lesson from a local hometown paper not owned by a media conglomerate. My father was in the midst of repairing a customer's airplane. The customer got drunk and fought with his wife, and decided to take his plane up in the middle of the night even though the plane and the flight weren't cleared. He crashed at the end of the runway and was killed. Whose picture ended up on the front page? My fathers - because "FAA investigates local mechanic" sounds much more interesting than "drunk wrecks his own plane". (The FAA is *required* to investigate crashes.)

    Yes, news reports are more about entertainment than education. That's why celebrity support of charities & causes has become so important - it's the only way most people hear about them. But what can you do about it?

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  2. Many in my generation are now turning - ironically - to Comedy Central to get honest news. By poking fun at current events, shows like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show actually get closer to the truth of what's happening than mainstream media seems to think is safe. Lately I've taken to reading BBC News and the Guardian... although they have their own European bias, they don't have the same vested corporate interests as the media on our side of the pond and are willing to risk digging a little deeper, all without injecting as much fear into the narrative as networks like CNN and Fox are wont to do.

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  3. Maria, I've gone back and forth. I finally decided that for me the reporting in general is distasteful that I sacrificed being aware of current events. It's a pretty sad situation.

    Tim, good call on Comedy Central. I watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report a couple of times a week, and Politically Incorrect on HBO about once a month. It's amazing to me how much truth they manage to get into their broadcasts, and how many issues that are either glossed over or completely ignored turn up in a supposed comic parody.

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  4. BBC? That's government-run. I don't know what's worse...

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  5. I am down to catching O'Reilly Factor on the tivo and watching some of the segments that interest me, like Miller Time with Dennis Miller, or anything on energy independence, and the email at the end. Other than that, I've become a talk radio junkie for most of my news consumption.

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