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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why the News is Turning People Off

According to writer Kirk Johnson in today's New York Times, people just can't keep up with the news. Johnson writes:

Many Americans find themselves scratching their heads about America’s military intervention in Libya, and part of the reason, they say, can be summed up in one word: overload.

In a four state series of interviews, the Times discovered that the onrush of information about Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya has left most people confused about it all.

Part of it, according to the Times is that Japan has more relevance for Americans. An obscure corner of North Africa is just not on peoples' agenda. And the Pew Research Center found that while only 5% of Americans are keeping up with that story, 57% of those surveyed have been closely following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami reporting.

A recent study by the French government found that the amount of content produced by all media has been growing at a rate of 10% every year since 2000. At the same time, the number of people consuming information has remained relatively static, if not in a slight decline. Some people interviewed by the Times said that there is so much "stuff" out there, that they can't take it in and are not following the news as much as they once did.

Compassion fatigue? I think it's more like "information deflation." The value we once placed on information becomes less as the amount of information increases.

This is also a media version of Gresham's Law.

Sir Thomas Gresham was a 16th century British financier who stated that the value of all money declines, when some money is suspect. He was referring to the possibility of counterfeit coinage devaluing all money.

The same is true with information: if there are doubts about the value of some media, all media becomes tarnished. When there is so much information in circulation, and some of it quite dubious, the public starts to doubt whether once trustworthy sources are still worth spending time with.

On the Libya story, despite the good work of some mainstream media organizations, the increasing presence of poor quality journalism from tabloid newspapers and broadcasters tends to diminish all media in the eyes of the public.

1 comment:

  1. Sad, but true.
    Now the tabloids and the cablers will be trying to figure out who is going to replace Katie Couric and that debases the media coin even further.