The ‘ESPN-ization’ of Today’s News Media
Published: Thursday, February 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
It seems as though the current news landscape has shunned away traditional forms of broadcasting information, instead presenting news soaked in punditry and sensationalism in an attempt to entertain. The American Idol and NBA All-Star Game crowd tend to lack interest in learning about what is going on in the world, and this is a problem for those folks whose job it is to generate advertising revenue.
Don't get me wrong; this past Sunday, I enjoyed watching the Super Bowl, but I do not want to see those same methods of broadcasting used when it comes to informing people of what is going on in the world.
Newsgathering takes work. Sometimes, it's easier to talk about a situation, make up a story, or just make something a spectacle for no reason.
One way to see this dynamic manifest itself is to watch the coverage of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. There is a boatload of coverage for all the state primary races, the eventual convention for each party, and, of course, the general election.
There are many similarities between how sports and politics are discussed. This is especially true when it comes to the frequency of debates this election season – 19 thus far. The weekend before the New Hampshire Primary, there were even two debates that were 12 hours apart.
I love watching these debates, but I want them to deal with genuine policy issues.
Let me begin by discussing the opening montage that these debates typically have. Each network creates a three-minute intro to the debate. When I watch these clips, I can't help but recall the intros for Monday Night Football or Football Night in America. I understand it is about ratings, but can't the debate intros be slightly more academic?
After the opening montage, next comes the brief bit about the rules and then the grand entrance by each candidate. A recent debate in Florida had UB alum Wolf Blitzer call each candidate out to applause. It took 10 minutes.
During another debate, for the first time in TV debate history, candidate Newt Gingrich caused the audience members to jump to their feet and applaud Newt's snide remark to moderator John King's opening question regarding Newt's marriage life.
Gingrich lambasted the CNN host for helping Democrats and siding with "the elite media."
Newt was being dishonest and is part of the problem of perpetuating the notion that all media is liberal. He was trying to create a reaction by the audience and was not willing to give an answer to a legitimate question.
The ratings boom created by episodes like Newt's is quickly changing contemporary news media, whether it is on television, online, in print, or even in the blogosphere. The phenomenon is most visible on television.
When the debates are over, there is the token roundtable discussion by the regular political commentators who are supposed to tell you what happened and how to think. The same thing happens after every televised professional sporting event. For some reason, political commentators seem to ignore policy discussions and instead discuss the candidates' personal attacks on one another, audience reactions, or what voters think of a particular candidate.
Watch some political commentary or broadcasts from the Cronkite era. There is a tone of reservation and objectivity in the speaker's voice. Today's television media is filled with attractive male and female commentators trying to sum up candidates' positions in a few short words.
The next GOP debate will take place in Arizona on Feb. 22. Tune in and see if you can see the similarities. With all four remaining candidates showing no signs of dropping out of the race, there will be more debates, controversy and ESPN-ization to come.
Is that a good thing?
James Gibbons is a Student Association on-campus senator.