TV news emphasizes the immediate and the emotional. This screen shot shows how the NBC news affiliate in Miami allows readers to rate stories by emotions.
Notice that this mechanism does not reward stories for being fair, informative, accurate, or even newsworthy.
I stumbled across this feature while reading a story about the 11-year-old reporter who got a one-on-one interview with the president. Miami is apparently “bored” with that story, though the city is “laughing” about stories on Cuba running out of toilet paper, an elderly couple starting a fire while doing the nasty in bed (illustrated by the image of a sexy young couple in bed, since apparently no sexy hidden camera footage of the newsmaking and whoopee-making elderly couple was available), and a man who pretended to be disabled so a hired nurse would change his dirty diapers.
Journalism has always included stories about things that are newsworthy
simply because they are strange. I regularly read Snopes.com and the
“Odd news” section of various news feeds, and I have a section of my
feed reader for “Amusing,” and a blog category for “Amsuing.” I don’t
mean to say that the news shouldn’t take the opportunity to entertain.
Slashdot, which is famous for catering to the geek hive mind, lets
people rank posts as “Insightful” and “Informative,” along with “Funny”
and “Redundant.” Community members can can react to posts in both
emotional and objective ways. Individual users can tweak a filter, so
that if you’re in a hurry, you can bury any post that has been flagged
as “Redundant,” or, if you’re in the mood for giggles, you can promote
any post that’s been ranked as “Funny.”
I think we can assume that the “Miami is Emotional” design is an
invention of the marketing/promotions department, and that the
journalists weren’t actively involved in designing the environment in
which their content — serious or otherwise — is displayed online. If
a serious journalist chooses to pursue meaty, significant stories, and
gets rated as “boring” time and time again, that journalist is going to
be pressured into spinning a story so that it stokes a response. And
“outrage” seems to be the lowest-hanging fruit.
Having said all that, the pressure to sensationalize in order to keep
the attention of news consumers is nothing new. The attention of the
viewing public is the product that the broadcasters sell to
advertisers, and how they get that attention often has little to do with the quality of the TV programming.
But the Miami NBC website front-loads the role of emotion to an extent I’ve never before seen.
I’m not sure I would log onto the internet with the intention of
finding things to be outraged about, so I’m not sure how useful that
feature of the Miami NBC website would be. I wanted to get a look at
stories ranked according to how bored Miami was, but the screen came up
blank. Sometimes this sort of thing happens because I use Firefox with
an aggressive ad-filter installed, so I switched over to Internet
Explorer to see what the site looked like. Wowsa, the flashing! The
content-blocking popups! I backed out immediately.
I would spend a lot less time on commercial web sites if it weren’t for AdBlock.