Unit V -the Media and Social Capital
News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment. By Daya Kishan Thussu. London, Sage: 2007
Dr Stephen Stockwell ,Reconsidering the Fourth Estate:The functions of infotainment
Traditional TV news and current affairs programs are shrinking in terms of audience reach and thus significance to public discourse. The challenge to these traditional forms comes from an emerging, still-formless genre, and infotainment.
News entertainment, or “infotainment,” has come to dominate the news landscape in recent years, despite being sharply scorned by many traditional journalists and academics for focusing on “entertainment” rather than “news.” Increasingly, news programs have tried to make their broadcasts more “entertaining,” to gain ratings by incorporating more lighthearted presentations, human interest stories, and emotionally-tinged or charged language into newscasts.
Who consumes infotainment, how it is consumed, and what effects the rise of infotainment has had on the general population’s conception of news?
Some have argued that infotainment increases interest in the politics, and therefore participation in democracy
“News personalities,” better known as “pundits,” now dominate the journalistic landscape. The likes of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, CNN’s Glenn Beck, and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, NDTV- Burkha Dutta, Times NOW Arnold Goswamy, CNN-IBN Karan Thappar, presenting themselves as newscasters and anchormen, now rule an environment once dominated by Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. Thomas E. Patterson, a government professor at Harvard has noted that we are seeing the rise of soft news, a “more personality-centered” medium in which the newscaster has become as much a part of the news as the news itself. Infotainment, then, is the portmanteau of information and entertainment. Its focus is human-interest issues, violent crime, and other topics where a public policy component is not wholly central to the story.
Another crucial component of infotainment is its reliance on what is best understood as a dialogical format. According to Eran Ben-Porath, professor of Communication at the Annenberg School in Philadelphia, “cable…delivers the news predominately by way of human interaction based on conversation rather than journalistic monolog.” Unlike the answers-based format of more “traditional” newscasts, news presented in a dialogical format reports through questions and projected solutions often gathered from popular opinion polls, on the spot surveys and interviews with populist commentators asked to weigh in on the day’s issues. Crucial to this formula is the almost constant sense of urgency that accompanies the appearance of these polls, testimonies and rants. This means that news is broadcast live, not pre-taped.
Following from this, infotainment is also characterized by its tendency to be specialized. As modern media has diversified to include the Internet, satellite, extended cable and twenty-four hour news networks, “there are more channels, chances, and incentives to tailor political communication to particular identities, conditions, and tastes.
This results in a political fragmentation, where political agendas appear in multiple, if often non-dedicated, channels aimed at particular audiences. This can largely be explained by the increasingly market-driven nature of the journalism industry. As corporations focus increasingly on cashing in on niche demographics, the information industry has sought to tailor news to particular aspects that will create viewer loyalty. Assuming that audience attention is “fickle” and that programs are chosen “on subject matter, personal relevance, and convenience,”viewers are comforted by a market environment in which they are able to access and are provided with information that conforms to a familiar state of mind.
This is especially interesting when one considers that the majority of infotainment’s audience consists of people who do not consider themselves as traditionally engaged in politics. Matthew Baum, professor of Journalism at Harvard, defines these consumers as “politically inattentive individuals,” who do not “turn to traditional political news, and so are unlikely to be exposed to hard news stories about foreign affairs.” Infotainment, instead, utilizes simplified information that allows citizens to participate in democracy from a largely populist base where information is insubstantial and the coverage is not in-depth. Both Baum and Angela Jamison, professor of Journalism at UCLA, argue that politically inattentive viewers do not decide whether to use hard or soft news, but rather decide whether to use soft news or no news at all.As such, soft news is less an alternative news source which offers a world view that might challenge conventional news outlets, as it is a substitute primary news source for millions who do not want to or have the time to absorb what might be considered a complicated, detailed news story. Infotainment serves as a system of reporting that allows viewers to get just enough information to be able to take some sort of stand on a given issue. If political information can be made entertaining, it can be tacked onto the material mainly intended for entertainment. As a result, there is no extra cost for gaining this information. In the end, consuming soft news does actually raise awareness about political issues in people with low political awareness.
Viewers watch infotainment because its stories are presented in an episodic format that helps simplify otherwise complex information. People who depend on infotainment often find the information given in hard news broadcasts complex and hard to comprehend. Episodic frames, on the other hand, “tend to be more compelling and accessible to politically inattentive viewers.”An episodic focus on individuals or groups rather than on public policy issues, is easier to connect to as a viewer, and thus easier to digest. Baum also asserts that “individuals may rapidly forget the facts surrounding a given issue or policy, yet they remember how they felt about it.” Within the framing of episodic news, emotional judgments take place over slow and distanced reasoning. One of the starkest examples of this remains the events of 9/11; many people may recall where they were when they found out and their initial shock. As 9/11 demonstrated, the visual component of news reports becomes imperative to the impact of soft news because “it is more vivid” and plays to viewers’ preference for episodic frames. Families crying at memorial services and Bush using harsh rhetoric against those allegedly responsible can provoke strong emotional reactions, even if they have nothing to do with a policy component or looking into why 9/11 occurred. If soft news viewers can visualize events and issues through a set image rather than making an image themselves through reports and dictated analysis, it is more likely to keep their attention fixed on a story, replacing thought with anticipation and a sense of participation.
Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor
Cool and Hot media
McLuhan placed media into two categories: Hot and Cold.
He determined a mediums temperature based on the involvement or participation from the masses and the amount of information presented. From his book Understanding Media:
"There is a basic principle that distinguishes a hot medium like radio from a cool one like the telephone, or a hot medium like the movie from a cool one like TV. A hot medium is one that extends one single sense in "high definition". High definition is a state of being well filled with data. A photograph is, visually, "high definition". A cartoon is "low definition," simply because very little visual information is provided. Telephone is a cool medium, or one of low definition, because the ear is given a meager amount of information. And speech is a cool medium of low definition, because so little is given and so much has to be filled by the listener. On the other hand, hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. Naturally, therefore, a hot medium like radio has very different effects on the user from a cool medium like the telephone."
Some examples given by McLuhan are:
It seems, the key to understanding this concept is to explore how the content is presented by the medium. Or in other words, how does the medium express itself. Both telephone and speech are cool in nature because of the economic means of language, while the radio is filled with noise, to be always "on".
A movie and television differ from involvement. The movie, or film, is blown up millions of times greater than its original size giving the viewer all the information on the screen, and so one does not need the imaginative faculty to see what is happening. While the television has low information, cutting away to advertising, returning for the sponsored viewing. All the breaks are programmed, sending the viewer into an acute state of involvement.
It is the hot medium that has little participation from the audience due to its high definition of sense. While the cool medium is low in definition, and therefore one must be more involved to "get it". A cool medium, then, can become intensified at some point by evolving its structure, either through hybridization (marriage to another medium) or "heating up" a particular sense from which one was cool. For instance, you might see the television heat up pretty soon as it marries the computer monitor, and/or smart phones. The antenna and satellite are mobile. The display becomes the focus of attention and it matters less what one is watching, so much that they are watching. Further, the content provided are clips, bites, moments, skits, blips and slices of life from reality or performance artists, creating a new stage keeps people remote and in observation