Trashy celebrity gossip has graced the cover of magazines, the Internet and other media outlets. Media scholar John Hartley has written that news is “the sense-making practice of modernity” and, as such, “the most important textual system in the world” (Schudson, 2003, p. 12). While we have 24/7 news channels such as FOX News and CNN, celebrities are still gracing their presence with the up-to-date news on channels that should be devoted to important news stories worth the coverage. America is still facing a struggling economy along with other foreign countries that have had riots within the government and the people. Why would headlines about Lindsay Lohan in court and Charlie Sheen’s “tour” make the top stories on these news channels?
The media does have the right to publish stories with their own opinions about the issue. “There is no question, then, that members of the media have some autonomy and authority to depict the world according to their own ideas” (Schudson, 2003, p. 18). While the 24/7 news channels do have to entertain their audience for all hours, they tend to look at the celebrity gossip to fill in time slots when there is no breaking news or important stories at the moment. Also, with the economy, several news channels have cut reporting staff in order to cost costs. The lack of reporters getting stories has caused the networks to struggle to find newsworthy stories. As a last resort, they turn to celebrities in order to stall time. The news channels are also interested in appealing to the viewer’s interests. High ratings keep the shows on-air. At the end of the day, it is business and profit needs to be made. Because celebrity gossip taking over importance in Americans’ lives, it is creating an uninformed public.
Meet Libbi. She is a 24-year-old college student (and also my roommate) who is a full-time server.
I decided to interview Libbi, to quiz her knowledge on both celebrity and “real” news. I asked her 12 questions pertaining to recent U.S., local and international news from this week. My prediction was that she would only answer the entertainment news questions correctly. As I scrolled through the questions, I predicted that Libbi would only answer 6 questions right. Below are the questions I asked her:
1. What mansion that may have inspired a popular novel was recently torn down in NY? Great Gatsby
2. What country was the winner of the Boston Marathon from? Kenya
3. At what age did the world’s oldest man, Walter Breuning, die? 114
4. What teen reality show couple recently filed for divorce? Leah and Corey from Teen Mom 2
5. Was the Obamas’ tax return of household income higher or lower this year than last year? Lower.
6. What country recently reelected a new president? Nigeria.
BONUS: What was the President’s name? Goodluck Jonathan
7. What wife of a famous actor recently was admitted back into rehab? Brooke Mueller
8. What famous actor was arrested for domestic violence? Nicolas Cage
9. What Syrian city did gunfire break out due to the country facing “armed insurrection”? Homs
10. What date is the royal wedding occurring? April 29th
11. What media mogul has made public statements that he will be running for President in 2012? Donald Trump.
12. What world leader has been ordered to remain in jail during the investigation of killing protesters and corruption charges? President Hosni Mubarak
BONUS: What country is he from? Egypt.
She correctly answered 8 questions, which is two more than the predicted 6 I believe she would answer right. She identified questions 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12. All of those are entertainment-based questions, although she threw me off when she answer question #12 correct.
After telling Libbi the correct answers to the questions she missed, I asked her why she did not know the answers. “I work a lot because I support myself. It is hard when I come home from work late at night because I am really tired. I want to come home and watch mindless TV to unwind from a busy night at work,” she states. We also do not have any newspaper subscriptions to our apartment which can justify why she did not know the other questions relating to world news.
When I inform her that we do have access to the Internet in order to look at the news, she replies, “I use the Internet for social networking purposes and homework, not to look at news websites.” I asked her if she did not work so much, would she spend some of her free time educating herself on current events. She told me she wouldn’t because “[world news] doesn’t interest me. It’s boring and would rather read something entertaining about celebrities than something depressing going on in other countries that doesn’t affect me.”
Schudson, M. (2003). The sociology of news. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.