Infotainment: Journalism Debased

I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon where newscasters turn into pet dogs looking to their masters, the viewers, for cues on what to do in order to get a treat, or a viewer’s attention. The public, constantly surrounded by things trying to entertain them, desires to be entertained even by the news. In an attempt to get the “treat,” journalist-newscasters have (been) degraded  to the point of supplying more entertainment than information. Edward R. Murrow feared this digression of television and news in the ’50’s. He explained, “During the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live.” As journalists, I feel that it’s our job to connect the public to the world, not insulate them from it. But I would agree with Murrow that infotainment (emphasis on the tainment) insulates people from the real world.

Infotainment is oddly similar to the word infomercial, and we all know how dreadful those can be. Whose Line is it Anyway parodies infomercials in one of their games, and in one particular segment, Colin says something rather poignant (3:15): “You know, these commercials are not only informative, but they’re entertaining.” I thought this said a lot about infotainment as well. Infotainment (again, emphasis on the tainment) takes great pains to be entertaining, and in the process it loses valuable information (just like Colin’s infomercial lost focus on the product when he tried to introduce the random “entertainment”). Overall, I feel infotainment is a negative method of reporting news.

While reading up on infotainment, I realized that there’s another way to look at that word. Instead of information presented in an entertaining way, it could (and does) also apply to information on entertainment and entertainers. We talked in class about Survivor participants being highlighted on “news” shows, and Pulitzer-nominated columnist Jonah Goldberg submitted evidence supporting the idea that infotainment in this fashion has gone too far. He reported on  CNN’s decision to seriously address a few SNL skits (which purposefully make things up) with the sole purpose of telling viewers that SNL’s “land shark” was fabricated, and that their skit on “President Obama’s” speech was indeed another counterfeit. Goldberg wonders why CNN would bother to report on these findings so obvious to viewers. I wonder how the public could have gotten so numb that CNN would be prompted to address these skits. SNL is meant to entertain; CNN’s report on that entertainment is a perfect illustration of the television insulating the public from the real world.

Infotainment, I feel, is a sad development in journalism. I’m not opposed to presenting information in an interesting way, but to present it in an entertaining way is inappropriate for any respectable journalist.

Carli Hanson

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