If you visited CNN.com you would notice that they have an entire section dedicated to entertainment. When pressing that link, you can learn anything about any celebrity you want. They’ve got a photo gallery of celebrities, a page of quotes by celebrities, and even a page titled” “The Justin Bieber Saga.”
CNN isn’t the only website dedicating a large section of their website to celebrities, Fox News is also guilty. Their celebrity headlines range from Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s breakup, to the most recent drama on New York Housewives.
Additionally, if you watch television you can watch shows like Entertainment Tonight, Good Morning America or even entertainment segments during local, national and world news broadcasts. If you flip through the newspaper there’s an entire section dedicated to entertainment and there are entire magazines such as Elle, Cosmo, Men’s Health, Vogue and Women’s Health, just to name a few, that are strictly for entertainment.
Entertainment news can be defined as information about movies, radio, television and celebrities, as well as games like puzzles, comic strips, cartoons and horoscopes. CNN’s website has an entertainment section, Fox News’s website has one, even the Associated Press’s website has a section for sports and oddity stories.
“The more relevant you make celebrities the less relevant you become,” said Cory Anton, a communication professor at GV in a Communication Theories lecture. This made a profound impact on me. So profound, in fact, that I’ll be dedicating this entire article to how relevant entertainment news in general is in our society and how it is potentially harmful to ourselves and our society.
With the accessibility of Cable TV and internet, the supply of media content has multiplied drastically, which has resulted in greater diversity of content. It’s a well known fact that mainstream media exists to make a profit and it’s sad but true: entertainment sells more than hard news stories, so many of these media outlets have resorted to having entertainment segments or sections to increase ratings.
According to Thomas Patterson in an article from Harvard College titled “Doing Well and Doing Good: How Soft News and Critical Journalism are Shrinking the News Audience and Weakening Democracy—and what News Outlets Can do About it,” entertainment news is weakening the foundation of democracy by diminishing the public’s information about public affairs and its interest in politics.
Americans devote more hours of the day to media consumption than any activity except sleep and work. If during this time, we are steeped in entertainment and distracted by remote incidence, the contribution that the news could make to the quality of public life is diminished, and possibly unnecessarily. According to the article, entertainment news may actually be eroding people’s interest in news.
After surveying the student population at GV, 40 percent of the votes (26 individuals), said they preferred entertainment news over hard news. Some of the reasons ranged from not being able to understand hard news, having too many things to worry about in life already, being too controversial to watch, to not enjoying politics.
One anonymous survey taker said they preferred entertainment news because “life has enough bad news in it. I don’t want to spend my little free time watching or reading something that’s only going to make me feel worse about the world we live in.”
At the end of the survey, 70 percent of respondents believed that citizens are less informed about current events because of the prevalence of entertainment news in our media today, while only 24 percent didn’t believe citizens are less informed today.
One survey taker responded: “Depends on the definition of ‘current event.’ If it’s defined as war, famine and pestilence, then quite probably yes. If current events include the upcoming release of a new Justin Timberlake album, it seems people are right on top of it.”
The most interesting result of the survey was that individuals that answered they preferred to watch or listen to entertainment news still agreed that the growing coverage and interest in entertainment news is a problem for our society.
“I think [the prevalence of entertainment news] is a major problem. It’s creating a society of uninformed dimwits that don’t possess the ability to make a rational decision on anything important because they’d rather watch a video about Justin Bieber’s DUI than pick up a newspaper and read about what Congress is doing,” answered one anonymous survey taker.
Another anonymous survey taker answered: I believe that a growing percentage of the population is more interested in soft news. It seems that they do not want to think, or work to make changes in our society. This means that it is easier for others to have their way, be it good or bad, because there is no opposition or watch-dog group to ask questions or point out flaws or better/other ways to accomplish something.”
Another answered: “Sadly, I do think the increasing interest in entertainment news is a problem. Any time a person lets their brain rot it’s a problem. Entertainment news is sugar for the brain.”
On the same subject, someone responded “the media force-feeds us entertainment news and yes this is a problem. As a society we are effectively lobotomizing ourselves with this nonsense!”
Returning to Anton’s quote: “the more relevant you make celebrities the less relevant you become.” To be a good functioning democracy, the public must have a clear grasp of the daily workings of its government. Entertainment news provides little beneficial political information and American’s are overdosing on stories of stupidity, scandal and corruption. Entertainment news is causing apathy toward politics, which will eventually turn into apathy toward all news that isn’t entertainment. Ultimately, American’s will become disenchanted with their best source of political information and voting and participation in government, if done at all, will be performed blindly.
The survey I conducted did have a silver lining: 60 percent of responders said they preferred hard news over entertainment news and their reasoning restored some of my faith in society. One anonymous taker responded:
“I have no desire to find out what crap the celebrities are up to. I want to know what psychotic crap the politicians are handing to teachers now, if a tornado is about to take out my house, or if I need to donate food to the food banks because some politician has decided food stamps are too expensive.”
So it seems that there is an increasing prevalence of entertainment news in our media today and there is still a lot of hard news coverage. Some believe that the prevalence of entertainment news is ruining our society while others disagree.
“I definitely think people are more interested in entertainment news but I’m not sure it’s a huge problem,” one survey taker responded. “The people that want to be interested in hard news will be.”
Another answered “In some degree yes, I think citizens are more interested in entertainment news, but I think the problem has to do with education. It’s OK to like entertainment news more than hard news, just as long as you’re keeping up with the hard news. However, when people don’t understand the importance of being an informed voter, it’s only natural that media is going to focus on entertainment news to stay afloat. Teaching people to think critically starts with education, and our education system in America is so messed up right now.”
So based off the Harvard article and my survey, it seems like the best approach to the news is watching, reading, or listening in a healthy balance. It’s okay to like entertainment news more than hard news as long as you continue to educate yourself with what’s important. It seems that the prevalence of entertainment news in society and our media only becomes problematic when that’s the only type of news a person watches and when they’ve become entirely clueless about what’s happening in the world around them.