Bill Baker’s Weekly Column for Monday, December 18, 2006
More media is not better media
The paper reports that, according to the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007, ?Americans will spend 3,518 hours with their beloved media, including 1,555 in front of the TV.” This compares to the 3,333 hours the average American spent with the media at the beginning of the decade (including 1,467 spent watching TV in 2000).
The intelligence comes from media research company Veronis Suhler Stevenson, which collaborated on collecting data for the abstract. US Today quotes Leo Kivijarv, vice president of research at PQ Media, which worked with Veronis Shuler Stevenson in its research, as saying: that ?people want to have — and almost need to have — information and entertainment at their fingertips now, 24 hours a day.”
Inevitably, as the media come to be integral to more and more aspects of our daily lives ?- from business to education to social and even familial interaction ?- television, radio, the Internet and other forms of electronic media are going to have increased influence on our behaviors, our outlooks and our ideals.
With this in mind, we might read with interest an essay by a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Peter R. Kann, the chairman of Dow Jones, which appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week. In The Media Is in Need of Some Mending, Kann looks at ?10 current trends in the mass media that ought to disturb us.”
Among the troubling tendencies in Kann’s list are ‘the blurring of the lines between journalism and entertainment?; ‘the blending of news and advertising, sponsorships and other commercial relationships?; ‘the growing media fascination with the bizarre, the perverse and the pathological?; and ‘the media’s short attention span.”
Most media observers and critics — and surely a sizable majority of the public ?- are already quite aware of some of these trends and turn their attention to individual issues on a regular basis. But Kann’s codification of this series of problems in one place helps us think about the entire panorama of the media, and what appears to be systemic shortcomings in the way we are producing and consuming media in America today.
As the Census Bureau study points out, with each passing day we are spending more time with media. And, collaterally, new media forms and venues are coming online all the time. Indeed, it seems that the efforts of media purveyors — be they content creators, distribution networks, or technology developers ?- is to promote an ever-expanding universe of options.
But, just as with many things in life, more media is not necessarily better media.
One could easily argue that we have more than enough outlets to accommodate our societal needs at the moment. What cannot be readily argued is that the quality of content is improving on a par with the growth in distribution channels. In fact, as Kann suggests, the media is beset by issues that may be directly related to the exponential increase in the quantity of media available to us, and the competition that the new wealth of choices engenders.
The short attention span, the encroachment of commercialization on news and information programming, the blurring of lines, and the dominance of spectacle and sensationalism are all symptoms of an environment that has become hyper-competitive.
As the FCC once again considers easing ownership rules, we should recall that one of the big arguments being made less media regulation is that it would allow consumers more choices. But is more choice what American media needs right now? Or is it time to start paying more intention to the nature of the content that fills up those many hours we devote to our ?beloved media.”?
At a time when the media seem to be increasingly subordinate to commercialism, materialism and the profit motive, a final note in the USA Today article cited above should not be overlooked.
The same Census report that charted the steady rise in American media use, also looked at a wide range of issues defining American life today. The article noted one fascinating statistic about college students:
“The majority (79%) of freshmen in 1970 had a personal objective of ?developing a meaningful philosophy of life.” By 2005, 75% said their primary objective was ?being very well off financially.”?
A seismic philosophical shift. My question is: is our media simply reflecting that reality? Or is the reality a reflection of our media?