Just about every night, my fiancé and I watch the 10 o’clock news on the local New York Fox affiliate. And it’s often hard to differentiate whether it’s an actual newscast or a Talk Soup-style clip show. The broadcast typically leads off with some hard-hitting news. That is, if the weather isn’t disruptive enough to take the top spot. But almost nightly, after the day’s top headlines and the forecast, we’re treated to numerous stories about viral video clips and Facebook posts. Or social media developments about celebrities you’ve most likely never heard of. One broadcast spent at least 5 minutes on a story about a local doctor that was named People Magazine’s Sexiest Doctor Alive. And this was after teasing the story at every commercial break for over half an hour. So yes, almost half of nightly newscast was dedicated to how sexy Dr. Tri-State Area was. I know I write about celebrity quite a bit and mostly offer my opinion mixed in with fact. But I’m a blogger. That’s expected from me. I’m not billing myself as an ultimate news source. Therefore, I don’t have the obligation to deliver hard news. But Fox 5 News does. And so does every other so-called news network. A blogger’s gotta get his facts from somewhere, right?
It seems that more and more, the line between news and fluff is being seriously blurred. When did viral video become headline news? Why am I watching Grumpy Cat on the morning news instead of on my Facebook timeline where he belongs? Who decides that the latest picture of Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez laughing together is significant enough to warrant a 300-word story?
Here’s a sampling of actual headlines that are being billed as news:
Dylan And Cole Sprouse Finally Joined Facebook But Not For The Reason You Think (MTV)
Charlize Theron’s Leg Is Causing Heart Palpitations On Our Best-Dressed List (Huffington Post)
Here’s Reddit’s Prediction On The Top Three Of RuPaul’s Drag Race! (Google)
I know, I know. MTV has reduced itself to pandering to the needs of 12-year-olds. So an article about people I’ve never heard of joining Facebook is probably meaningful to the channel’s core audience. But still, a quick glance around MTV’s news homepage leads to some great pieces about the current landscape of pop music and applicable flashback pieces in advance of this weekend’s MTV Movie Awards. So there are ways to create news that works for your niche. But even in tween territory, a piece about some dudes joining Facebook is not the answer.
"There are ways to create news that works for your niche. But even in tween territory, a piece about some dudes joining Facebook is not the answer."
The other two stories were on the homepages of Huffington Post and Google News. Now I’m a huge fan of Drag Race like the next guy, but I highly doubt Reddit predictions of the current season’s top 3 contestants is one of the most important stories today. Not when there’s a democratic caucus taking place. Not when a former House Speaker has been accused of sexually abusing young boys. If I’m heading to a site specifically to read the news, I want to read the news. I don’t want to filter through a hodgepodge of viral social media posts and insignificant pieces about celebs clapping back at various people. I just want the news! There is totally a time and place for the lighter fare. That’s why I read Entertainment Weekly. That’s why I seek out gossip sites like PerezHilton.com or Lovebscott.com. But smack dab in the middle of my political news? No, sir. Please separate these stories out.
I’m sure this is happening as news programs and networks struggle to maintain relevance in an age where digital readership is exploding exponentially. As a reader, I can curate what I read every day and decide where those pieces come from. I’m in the driver’s seat when it comes to staying the know, and I don’t have to rely on a small selection of newspapers or broadcasts. So in an effort to pull me away from the deep abyss of Buzzfeed binge watching/reading, regular news broadcasts have started to incorporate “news” elements that merge Internet culture with traditional reporting. And surely in the process, they’re frustrating people who just want to know what’s going on in the world or in their neighborhoods.
"Politics, movie reviews, celebrity ass scratching-your nightly newscast has it covered."
It’s a ratings game. People love the weather. And they love to know that they can now follow Kim Kardashian on Snapchat. And they really love “Damn, Daniel”. The networks know this. And as much as they have an obligation to deliver the hard facts, they also have a responsibility to keep people tuning in. They all want to steal market share from other networks, websites, and social media. If they cover it all, you don’t feel the pressure or the need to assemble your own resources. Politics, movie reviews, celebrity ass scratching-your nightly newscast has it covered.
Will this ever change? Probably not. This era is defined by a culture of inclusion, curation, and selection. We don’t have to buy things. We can share them. We don’t have to work at your company. We can create our own. We don’t have to depend on tradition. We can buck the trend. This is true everywhere including news. Perhaps what the news networks need to do is test out new methods of delivering the news. Instead of looking like the old guy in the room that desperately wants to be cool, they need to put their collective brains together to update the old news format for a new generation. Maybe there could be a daily poll in which viewers help curate the newscast? Maybe the broadcasts could be evenly split into news/weather, viral sensations, and celebrity? Just do something.
Networks have clearly identified that content needed to change to keep viewers coming back nightly. But it isn’t just an empty content switcheroo that solves the problem. It’s time to do more than simply compete with the Buzzfeeds of the world. It’s time to join them.