Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get Back to the Point

Note the image above. That's from the homepage of USA Today (at least at mid-day August 25, 2010). The main story is about a film (a bad enough omen, but that's not at issue here), The Social Network. But the story that the newspaper decides to tell (again, as its main story) is about how the company's "brand" might be affected by the film.

First of all, I don't care. Facebook is what it is: a way-overhyped social network that exists to connect people and mine the hell out of their information for commercial gain. It is inevitable that someone would try to make money by trying to make Facebook sound like it has an interesting story. (And I am not sure that it does; the groan-inducing previews are so over-the-top melodramatic that at first I thought I was seeing a parody, then I began to grow a bit horrified as I realized that people really thought a film about spoiled rich boys at Harvard getting richer was a story with which all Americans could identify.)

Whatever. Just become my Facebook friend, okay?

My real complaint is with this type of journalism, represented by USA Today's report. Why are we supposed to care about Facebook's balance sheet? Why is that the most important thing about this silly movie? Good lord, why is it the most important news thing of the day?

It's not just USA Today and Facebook. Sports journalists do it all the time. Athlete So-and-So says something racist/misogynistic/criminal or is filmed doing something racist/misogynistic/criminal, and faster than you can say, Who is this guy and why should I care? we get the news stories about how this will hurt his ability to negotiate a new contract with the sports team that was daft enough to hire him in the first place. Or how it will affect his sponsorship deals, Jesus be praised.

Oh, entertainment journalists do it, as well. Actor So-and-So says something (or screams it on a secretly recorded phone) that is racist/misogynistic/criminal, and we have to endure not intelligent discussions about So-and-So's pathology, but rather easy-to-report "news" about how this could hurt So-and-So's box office or ability to get financing for his next movie.

These journalists who do this are missing the point. I know America is often one big get-rich-quick scheme, and half of the population would sell their spouse into slavery if it increased the odds of their getting a discount on Google stock or whatever. But journalists are supposed to have some news judgment, and they should recognize that, if stories with these angles are valid at all, they should come very late in the news cycle and be given low billing.

Because in the end, it just is not going to affect you or me one bit if Athlete So-and-So makes $14 million rather than $22 million next year. It won't affect us, it shouldn't affect us, and we shouldn't have stories pitched at us as if there is some unspoken agreement among all Americans that we should automatically put the monetary success of famous people ahead of their crimes or even their professional performance.

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