Only Three News Stories
The electronic media is a wonderful invention. The forty year old vision of Marshall McLuhan of a global village where the electronic media connects us all and becomes an extension of our brains is now truly a reality. The power to educate, connect and inspire are all inherently available on radio, television and the internet. That is why the television news coverage of this past Thanksgiving week was so incredibly disappointing.
There seemed to be only three news stories. Whether I watched the network new programs, the cable news networks or the local news the stories were the same.
News story number one: Airline travel over the Thanksgiving holiday. The anchor throws to one or more reporters live at the check in areas of major airports who breathlessly talks about how busy it might be, what the weather might do to flight schedules and what delays to expect. All of this reported within the context of the recent unfriendly skies of commercial aviation. This of course is accompanied by interviews with a few travelers and what they expected or had experienced. It seemed like the only people traveling were mothers with young children. Every single story had a mom with a young child in arms talking about going to grandmaâ€™s house.
News story number two: The unusually high price of gas for November. Segueing with, â€˜for those that arenâ€™t flying there is the problem of record gasoline pricesâ€™. This usually is followed by an interview with a motorist at a gas pump or someone from the AAA or some other travel related group talking about how high the price of gas is and the possible effect on holiday driving.
News story number three: The visuals of screaming people seemingly on sugar highs running through the entrance to a discount store in the pre-dawn darkness worshiping at the alter of bargain prices. There was not a single newscast I saw that didnâ€™t discuss black Friday and black cyber Monday. Is this the society I live in? Ugh. The use of the word black relates to profit as in â€œbeing in the blackâ€. The double entendre this year is that the consumers might give retailers a black depression. For me the word is apropos as it reflects on what we call civilization. The middle ages were called the Dark Ages and the scourge of the time was the Black Plague.
Sorry to be a bit of a curmudgeon here, but when every single news outlet has these same three stories, all saying the same thing and for six days it points to the dumbness of the media. Newspapers were not much better as all front pages had pictures and stories about at least two of these stories if not all three. When media executives wring their hands and wonder where their audiences and readers have gone, they should be made to watch or read all this dull sameness over and over again.
Why does this bother me other than the repetitive dumbness of all these stories? Well, first we all know the outcomes of all three stories. All the travelers more or less made it to their destinations and got home. All the drivers filled up their tanks, groaned a bit and drove anyway. And for the next two weeks the talking heads on television will speculate about how whether this will be a good season for retailers and what that might mean about the consumer driven economy. So, a lot of reporting on three stories where the outcomes are more or less predictable. As a society we manage to create drama around our social process much as many people manufacture drama around their own lives. We all get caught up in the process of living so much that we think it is newsworthy.
This leads me to the second reason I get frustrated with this type of reporting. There are so many interesting developments in the world and there are so many huge issues facing humanity that to have the incredible power of the mainstream media sleep walk through formulaic reporting is sad. While I try to live in the present as much as possible, as a futurist I spend a lot of timing thinking about the future. The patterns and trends I see that give me a glimpse on the future make me want to shake the media by the shoulders and tell them to lead the way. Use your power to prepare and lead.
Marshall McLuhan infused many of us with a vision of an electronically connected global village that opens up opportunities of unparalleled connectedness that can lead to a new dawn. He also said something that, unfortunately, is reflected in the current state of news media and society today: â€œMost of the people drive down the highway of life looking in the rear view mirrorâ€.