Anyone can access information anytime, anywhere, thanks to the internet. The internet has made it possible to access even the most obscure information because of the unlimited number of websites available. Who was the 19th president of the United States? In what year was the Federal Reserve formed? Anything anyone wants to know is at their disposal, and most of the sites on the internet are free, so no one has to pay a fee to access the information. The sad part is not many people will know the answer to those questions. If someone were to ask who won American Idol last year, or what designer made Angelina Jolie’s dress to wear at the Oscars, then a searcher would get a lot of people who know the answer to those questions. It seems society is focusing on soft news stories instead of focusing on the more important topics. People’s priorities seem to be misplaced when it comes to what news will make an impact on their lives. It is a growing problem with multimedia news outlets, who are more concerned about the bottom line than about giving the public better information. Soft news is dumbing down society. Actions such as breaking up multimedia corporations, bringing back the fairness doctrine and clearly defining the word soft news will help show the public why they need to focus more on harder hitting stories.
One of the driving forces in making the news so commercial instead of educational is the emergence of multimedia companies such as News Corp, Time Warner, and Comcast who own Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Before the Fairness Doctrine was dismantled by Ronald Reagan, the news and entertainment divisions of these companies were separated from each other. This kept the motivation for profits away from the news. Back then, channels that showed the news actually ran a deficit, but the law back then was that these companies had to deliver something of educational value to the public. There have always been entertainment stories and soft stories about what food is healthy and how to exercise properly, but they were kept at the end of the news, and were usually pretty short segments. The effect that soft news is having is obvious. As An Nguyen wrote in Journalism Studies, “Or as traditional news providers merge with non-news media to become multimedia firms, they opt to maximize their popular appeal” (Nguyen, 2012). The only thing a non-news company cares about is profit. Breaking up these companies would minimize the risk of them driving news stories such as Brittany Spears’ smoking, how to lose ten pounds in two months, or Paula Dean’s using a racial slur. The news would remain a non-profit entity.
It is undoubtedly true that, no matter what laws are implemented, if the public does not want to pay attention to the more important stories, no laws would make the public care. Getting people to understand that soft news does not benefit their lives would be a good start. Teaching children in school about more pressing issues could develop an appreciation for serious approaches to the news. If they are taught that soft news will not make a difference in their lives, there is hope that students will grow up to focus on the more important stories about world events.
People who want help learning how to cook a certain type of meal, or finding out what exercises might help them lose the most weight, they can read self-help and cooking books, or search online to find thousands of blog posts on every topic imaginable. There would be no reason for the news to include a section on exercising, or making the perfect pot roast.
Many people do not even know the expression “soft news” means. As Boczkowski and Peer point out, “Consumers increasingly make their choices as the story level and even scholars disagree as to what soft news means, some focus on what stories are told, others on how they are told and a third group on a combination of these two foci” (Boczkowski & Peer, 2011). Scholars need to define clearly what the word soft news means, because, if people knew the clear meaning of the word soft news, that would help them make up their minds on what type of news want to see in press.
One of the main factors causing companies to start covering soft stories more often was that companies who owned newspapers and news channels were losing money. The thought was that covering more stories on entertainment, religion, travel, and sports was a way to lure and retain readers and viewers. If, on the other hand, news providers were to become non-profit entities, there would be no need to” dumb down” the content just to attract more customers. Instead of having big corporations who are only in the business of making profits, with non-profit organizations running newspapers and news channels, the focus would move away from profit and be put back on educating people.
Congress should bring back the Fairness Doctrine, which was what kept the news and the news companies in check. An article in USA Today states the case fairly: “Introduced in 1949, The Fairness Doctrine required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was, in the FCC’s view, honest, equitable, and balanced” (USA Today, 2011). Under this doctrine, which regulated what was put onto the news, companies covered controversial topics, and did it in an informative and fair manner. Opponents may argue that is will be unpopular to force news stations and newspapers to cover certain stories and not others, but the temporary dissatisfaction will be worth it.
In the end, the only people who can bring about change to the way news stories are delivered to consumers are the consumers themselves. If people demand change, change will occur. News media will be forced to cover more serious news stories with more substance to them.
Until that time when the public finally takes back control of what news is served up to them, it looks as if there will continue to be coverage of the Kardashians’ troubled love lives, sex scandals, fitness news, cooking tips, and gossip. In other words, soft news will continue to fill
Pages and air waves. It is time for the consumer to stand up and say “Enough!” It is time to demand more from news providers
Boczkowski, P. J., & Peer, L. (2011). The Choice Gap: The Divergent Online News Preferences of Journalists and Consumers. Journal Of Communication, 61(5), 857-876.
Fairness Doctrine: Three Votes from Returning. (2011). USA Today Magazine, 139(2790), 8.
Nguyen, A. (2012). The effect of soft news on public attachment to the news. Journalism Studies, 13(5/6), 706-717.