People have always wanted to know what is happening in the world, and thus the media has been a necessary medium for filling that purpose for an almost immeasurable amount of time. But as our culture changes, does the way we absorb information change as well?
Apparently not, based on some of the apps that have recently gained popularity. Fast Company recently posted an article titled “5 Apps That Make Reading the News More Fun”, which outlines the characteristics of these apps designed to filter information based on user preferences. For instance, the Chrome extension Rather replaces undesirable keywords in text, like Justin Bieber and twerking, with something the user likes, such as cats or sunsets. XKCD Substitutions, another Chrome extension, substitutes common jargon used in news stories with more entertaining language. The comic that inspired this app is shown below:
Though these apps are certainly funny, they illuminate a greater question regarding the purpose of the media. Should the media remain consistent, or should it adapt to changing times? It might be more enjoyable to read something with jokes interspersed throughout the text, but the purpose of news is not entertainment. Do we need apps like these to motivate ourselves to stay informed? Perhaps not yet, but their existence indicates a trend in the media toward deeper, more innovate engagement with their audience.
Many news organizations emphasize the use of interactive elements to go along with what would have been just average stories with plain texts. The Internet has provided to countless opportunities to make journalism more comprehensive. Stories can include, maps, slideshows, video, extra links, and much more, whereas without the tool, simply the text would suffice. These extra elements are typically viewed as enhancing the storytelling of news outlets, but when people are disinterested in news or information that lacks technological advancement, like those modified by these apps, perhaps individuals should reexamine their reasoning for staying informed. Is it to learn and subsequently become an active, knowledgable member of society, or is it just for pure enjoyment? Why can’ t it be both?
Finding a balance seems to be key these days. Regardless, it seems that if news outlets lag behind in evolving for the Digital Age, they might become altogether irrelevant. Or at least just really boring.
The unfortunate reality is that many Americans treat consuming the news like a spectator sport, an activity in one keeps up on the topics that one’s interested in and use the knowledge gained from reading the news to gain social currency among one’s friends. And as with all spectator sports, the MO is entertainment, not education, so many news-related organizations must find ways to attract new fans, as it were, to the sport of news consumption.
Regardless of our society’s intentions when consuming the news, media outlets should definitely adapt to changing times. Once upon a time, before news was written down and distributed in newspapers, news was delivered orally from village to village without a piece of paper in sight. As the audience changes, so should the media if it still wishes to perform its function of informing/entertaining the public.
You are absolutely right that today’s news sources strike a balance between entertainment and actual information delivery. It’s no longer the case that the audience sticks to one source of news – be it the radio in the 1930s or the black and white TV set in the 1960s. It was an informational pipeline to the audience – you likely got your boring vegetables with your entertaining news entre no matter what your source was.
Media’s relationship with the viewer really has changed from then. These days, when something major happens I can simultaneously get the blow-by-blow on Twitter, the parody version on Cracked, the “Top 10 Most Important Effects of the Event” on Buzzfeed, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a minute to actually read a long-form write up of the story in question.
In response to all of this, I once tried to get the majority of my news from Pro Publica – a non-profit “hard journalism” source. Problem was, once I’d bitten into the apple of infotainment, it just proved too difficult to go back. As for what the future of media will hold, I can’t wait to see it – literally.
I think the problem we have right now (and therein is the solution) is that the wall is crumbling down between news and entertainment – the authority that was formerly reserved to news by virtue of their prominence (newspapers, television broadcasts, etc.) has now been usurped in part by entertainment. TMZ garners viewers looking for information in the same way that NBC does. Therefore, I think the only feasible solution (though I’m not sure the best way to achieve it) is to rebuild that wall. Establish a medium or way of denoting who should be delivering news versus those aiming for entertainment. Maybe a statement of intent filed with the FCC? It’s a rather Orwellian thought.