Sunday, June 10, 2007

Breaking: Society

One of the challenges for Canadian media, resist the import of tabloid journalism, which has infested the American media. When The New York Times decided to run a front page story on Paris Hilton, you know that American journalism is effectively dead. When you see our publicly funded broadcaster putting Hilton on the front page, in the news section, you see that as an alarming example of the move to triviality. Which "story" doesn't quite fit?:
Flooding eases but threat remains in soggy B.C.

6 people dead, toddler injured in Wisconsin shootings

Riots mark Bush's Vatican visit

Toronto shooting leaves 1 dead, 3 wounded

NATO soldier killed in southern Afghanistan

Hilton 'growing' from jail experience

More Taliban suspects allege abuse

Palestinian gunmen storm Israeli border
Who cares? Furthermore, you could justify this tripe in the entertainment section, but to put the Hilton embarrassment in the news section, is just disgraceful. I understand there is an audience for tabloid stories, but surely we can expect the CBC to hold some higher level of journalist integrity. The fact that the CBC apparently can't, speaks volumes about the state of the media and where we are headed as a society.

With all the issues the world faces, all the relevant stories that explode daily, we waste precious space and audience on, what amounts to, a spoiled airhead tramp that parties. It is beyond maddening, and completely irresponsible for Canadian broadcasters to facilitate the dumbing down of Canada. I understand the elephant next door, and people will be quick to point out that "we aren't that bad", but the trends are clear, the erosion remarkable.

You could argue public demand, and the media is merely responding, driven by ratings. That view effectively absolves media from any responsibility, any independent standards, both substantively and ethically. Media as passive player, acting as conduit, supplying what we demand, seems all too convenient. The problem, for people who aren't interested in this nonsense, you can't escape it. The other day, no matter which news source I choose, paper or television, the story was there. In other word, unless I lock myself in a cave, the reluctant viewer is exposed, whether they want it or not. Did Neilson pickup my viewership, and conclude I cared?

I see the struggle against triviality, and superficial media, as largely a losing battle. Having said that, I expect my public broadcaster to operate under a different set of rules, and uphold some semblance of "hard" journalism. The CBC should operate as a beacon, even if it toils in the sea of nothingness. Do you know, right now, some CBC reporter is in Calgary, on the phone, trying to determine if Prince Harry actually slipped the tongue to a waitress at a racy bar? I desperately need to know, the world waits for the crucial confirmation. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.


burlivespipe said...

I didn't see the dumbing-down clip and don't know how far into the program it ran, but its obvious that the CBC producers are trying to 'appear relevant' to the less serious news crowd. However, I don't see any sign that their slide is in the FOX territory; but any trend of this kind certainly should raise the antenna of its strongest backers.
It's certainly too late for much of our print journalism. I remember just a few months ago the main front page story in the VAncouver Sun (the 'serious' news (!) paper from Canwest here on the west coast) was a story on "Are you smarter than your Grade 5 year old?" It compared the intellect and capacity of knowledge of today's multitasking, escape-weary adults to those of a young child. There was some big graphic/photo to go along with it. Later that day, having barely scanned the irrelevant story, did I realize that the Canwest TV network also promoting a new tv gameshow between adults and Gr. 5 kids... But there was no obvious connection to the story and the advertising campaign -- only the obvious could see that the readers had been 'punk'd'...

Steve V said...

I'm not suggesting "FOX terrority", but I have noticed some elements of that coverage on CTV Newsnet. Given that Newsworld competes, you can see a similar tone developing. I think it all very gradual, but I don't think anyone would deny that the American media does have influence in Canada. The move towards the sensational is real, and CBC, just like the NYT or G and M, are adjusting their focus.

JimBobby said...

Whooee! I been gettin' a laff outta the CBC fer years. I support 'em but I think it's beyond stoopid when they intersperse hockey news with real news.

Is hockey more or less important than Paris Hilton's attempts to buy "justice" in the land o' the free, home o' the brave?

O' Karl Marx sed -- "Religion is the opiate of the people." That was true probbly back in the 19th century when most folks had some religion. Nowadays, it's celebrity worship and organized sport that's the opiate of the people.

BTW, the BBC is far less commercial and far more in-depth-hard-news focused than the CBC. They don't run ads on BBC World TV or on tehir website. I just checked an' Paris Hilton's name was in a front page headline.


Anonymous said...

Why single out the CBC - they're all doing it.

It sells, unfortunately.

We can blame ourselves for watching this stuff - just stop watching, ratings go down and then ALL news media may improve.

Real_PHV_Mentarch said...

As I often say: journalism and politics are joined at the hip by intellectual sloth.

'Nuff said. ;-)

Real_PHV_Mentarch said...

Addendum: our Canadian MSM has definitely gone south on us (more examples here and here).


Karen said...

Sadly I agree Steve. You said, I think it all very gradual,

That's part of the problem in my view. We become inured as a result of this slow, subtle shift.

I've read, watched or listened to nothing about the "Hilton" thing, but I will say it was a chore not to.

This ridiculous competition for ratings, brings everyone to the lowest common denominator.

I can't quite figure out when we stopped seeking news and started settling for pap presented as news. Oh, we've always had gossip columnists and arts reporters, but they were relegated to those forums. When did that line become erased?

It's disturbing because it goes beyond just giving us inane stories. That same laziness can often be found in real news reporting. It seems it's fair game now to name call and lie when writing opinion. There once was a line, called defamation of character, that also seems to have been erased.

As you know, I've been bothered by this quite a bit. I posted yesterday on Flaherty's article, that was a lie, yet, he felt no compunction in writing it.

I know I'm off your theme here, but I think that Canada had better start calling on it's media to do better. I know writing to these org's may seem a futile effort, after all what can one voice do? But write I do and I think if more of us did, they may consider our thoughts.

Surely there is a large number of us who are now feeling disenfranchised?

Karen said...

mentarch, some interesting stuff there, but it's going to take a while to read through it all.

Steve V said...


Maybe, the media finds its check with the emerging online feedback. Traditionally, there was no system in place to challenge and push the media, aside from letters to the editor and such. Now, online forums and blogs present counters to spoon-fed media. The reader is less passive, which is the only avenue that gives me hope for the future. There is a growing scrutiny, that comes from the outside, with no investment, that could grow to act as conscience.


I'm not picking on the CBC, I just hold them to a different standand.

Anonymous said...

Coming late to this thread, but coincidentally today the Vancouver Afternoon Show on CBC had a phone-in on this very topic, and the guest was the managing editor of The Tyee (which up to now I'd had some respect for).

The guest's take was disturbing, because she said essentially what Steve noted: that in her view it's up to news organizations to talk about what the readership is talking about, and -- this was the kicker -- anyone who doesn't like that is somehow elitist. Gobsmacking.

I thought the press was supposed to tell us things we didn't already know, precisely so we could talk about them, not re-feed us warmed over pablum from yesterday's breakfast.

She attempted to conflate the travails of one rich spoiled brat with "popular culture", when they are in fact two entirely different things, and to imply that if you criticized the amount of coverage of Paris Hilton you were somehow criticizing popular culture, which made you too snobbish to matter.

Worse, she offered the old saw that if you want something different, you can always "change the channel", without acknowledging that there has to be something to change the channel to. Those of us with Paris fatigue would probably love to switch over to Hustle, or The Office, or even reruns of Maxwell Smart, but They. Aren't. There.

Finally, nowhere did she acknowledge, nor did the host bring up, the fact that tabloid journalism is cheap, easy, doesn't offend the powerful, and, sadly, sells enough to ensure a profit, thereby ensuring that we see more of it and less of real investigative reporting.

Like Steve, I hold CBC to a higher standard, and they missed the bar on this one.

Steve V said...


That is interesting. What drives me nuts about that the "change the channel" attitude is it completely absolves media from any responsibility. As you noted, it's hard to change the channel when it's on every one of them. My point, no one, outside of 100 guys and some bartenders, should even know who Paris Hilton is, let alone daily updates. I avoid it all like the plague, and yet, I have been exposed, so you can't hide.

The "give them what they want" line is irresponsible. A organ like the CBC doesn't have to play that game, if ratings were the primary concern, the network would have been gone long ago.