There’s a joke that went around some months ago that the current generation in their late teens to late twenties get most of their news from the Internet and the Daily Show, rather than the traditional outlets of print and television. Being at least 10 years too old to fit into that category age-wise, I find myself fitting in nonetheless. I rarely watch TV news anymore except to get a quick weather report or to check coverage on a big story such as an election, natural disaster, etc. At our house we get a daily newspaper but it is mainly for my wife, and I view it as a waste of trees that requires additional effort on my part each garbage day.
Bottom line, I don’t get my news from print or TV.
The next obvious question is…why? My answer is to take a look at these sources and it should be obvious. Both local and national US outlets in the US, especially the so-called “24-hour news channels” have a signal-to-noise ratio rapidly approaching zero. Sit in front of CNN, MSNBC, or if you particularly masochistic, Fox News. Try to measure how much of an hour’s broadcast is actual news, rather than commercials, commentary, entertainment or spin. Probably just a few minutes, if that. TV news is virtually content-free.
Print news is not in such a bad state, but has its own problems and annoyances, aside from quickly refilling the recycling bin . Most of the physical volume of a newspaper is ads. It is hard to “get in and out” quickly with a newspaper, as you have to find what you’re looking for amongst all of the overhead. I don’t find too many articles interesting and those that are interesting are often buried. My best luck is with a local paper that focuses on my hometown.
The Internet, through its many sites, blogs, and feeds, allows one to pick and choose the news they see. You can focus on the news sources and topics you’re most interested in. The variety can be broad or narrow, but it is to your choosing. By using news aggregation from multiple sources, you can get in and out quickly. A newsreading session can be a detailed hour-long affair or just last a few seconds as you move from task to task. You can mix local, regional and international news along with reputable and not-so-reputable sources. You can keep up with your friends and family.
Rather than forcing you to adapt your lifestyle to the media, Internet news can be made to adapt itself to your lifestyle. I find that very appealing.
So what does this have to do with AMN? I started this site 3 1/2 years ago to focus on the news. Just the facts and as little additional spin as possible. My goal was to have a single place to look for news about interesting music and for that site to exhibit a very high signal-to-noise ratio. Over time, my goal has morphed slightly, as I’ve added podcasts and opinion pieces, as well as links to free music downloads.
When I read my town’s local paper, I find myself tending to focus on two areas more than others: the opinion page and the comics. While discussions of city council meetings, local crime, and school board issues are important to me, I tend to just skim those articles. But I give my attention to the spin and entertainment. Perhaps this is another root of my dissatisfaction with traditional media, as I don’t appreciate the affect it has on me. As someone who prefers “real news”, I’m a bit embarrassed in my choice of reading. When I do use the traditional media, I head for the lowest common denominator, so to speak.
But when looking at AMN site stats, I find that I’m not alone. The most popular articles here are the opinion pieces (spin), followed by the podcasts (entertainment) and then links to review sites (more solid content-wise perhaps but still could be considered spin). I’m not denigrating this finding at all. It is what it is. And it is interesting. And it has brought me to a tentative conclusion.
There just isn’t enough real news going around for the print and TV media (especially the 24-hour news channels). Rather than repeat the same pieces over and over, they differentiate by branching into an areas that have proven popularity: opinion and entertainment. We only have capacity for taking in so much on the latest Iraq casualty figures, government scandals or evidence for global warming. Its not a matter of putting our brains in neutral either; millions of years of natural selection has programmed us to be drawn towards lively social debate and fun. We can’t help but enjoy it, at least at some level.
AMN will continue as it is. Our focus will be the news, hopefully the “real” news, regardless of any potential to increase our popularity by doing something else. Sometimes I’ll write an opinion piece but I’m not under any illusions that I’m a gifted writer in that respect nor am I often inspired enough to do so very frequently. We’ll do what we have been doing: linking you to places where you might find items of interest.
However your opinion is always welcome.