Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Corporate Hype

Everyone knows that the media has a tendency to make a big deal about seemingly minor issues. Take any particular day on a 24-hour news channel and you can observe this phenomenon at its best. Routinely minor events are completely blown out of proportion, especially when there is a slow news day. Something has to fill the network's time, right? Isolated incidents or new disease outbreaks are commonly hyped by the media, and as a result fearmongering coverage infects our consciousness. We are more likely to believe something negative will happen to us or the country in general, regardless of the probability.

A serious consequence of all this hype is "the boy who cried wolf" syndrome. When people hear enough about potential dangers and things that they should fear over and over, they can become desensitized to it. So when a real danger comes along, such as Hurricane Katrina, many will simply ignore the warnings, passing it off as normal media hype. However, if the media were to focus on the truly dangerous, instead of remote possibilities and pure speculation, sensationalism may be reduced and thereby improve the quality of information going out to the general public.

The root of this problem can be traced to the ownership of the media. The corporate imperative is profit, and the road to profits is through ratings. Ratings attract big advertisement dollars. Without sensationalism, promoting one particular program or product over another becomes difficult. This exposes the sameness nature of most media in today's commercialized culture. There is little difference between the "brand" names of a particular product, or genre of a television show, movie, or musical artist. Since little risk is involved in rehashing the tried and true, corporations have little incentive to try something truly unique or different. Taking risks drives up costs and can potentially cut into profits if unsuccessfully undertaken.

In any respect, the goal of the corporate media is to avoid the mundane or boring, no matter if it is important or truly dangerous. For example, establishing a democracy in Iraq is probably more important than Michael Jackson's molestation trial, yet a media circus surrounded the latter and not the former. What other issues do you believe the average American is well informed about? Which issues should they be more informed about? Do those two answers match? If not, we have a problem here.

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