Monday, February 14, 2011
Nightly News Is Now The Michelle Obama Show
During Sunday's Nightly News broadcast, viewers were treated to three teaser promos (totalling 24 seconds) for a story about Michelle Obama's advice on love and happiness for Valentine's Day (a breaking news story if ever there was one). When they finally showed this "news story" in the broadcast's final segment, it ran for all of 15 seconds. So the producers showed 24 seconds of promos for a 15 second story. This is what passes for journalism at Nightly News. It doesn't take Marshall McLuhan to understand what's going on here. Like NBC Entertainment, NBC News conducts focus groups to determine which people and subjects are of the most interest to their viewers. Based on the feedback from these focus groups (and from other sources such as a list of the top Google or Yahoo searches), the Nightly News producers then make a point of airing stories about those specific topics that the viewers have indicated they would most likely tune in to see. That's called pandering. Instead of airing stories based on newsworthiness, Nightly News airs stories based on how many viewers the producers think the stories can attract. That way, Nightly News gets higher ratings and can charge higher ad rates. Obviously, Michelle Obama tests very well in Nightly News focus groups. So in order to attract a larger audience, the producers make sure to air plenty of Michelle Obama stories. Even when there is no story to report, they slap together 15 seconds of stock photos (like they did on Sunday) and call it a "news story". Other "news subjects" who enjoy a high favorability rating (and thus have been featured repeatedly on Nightly News) are Kate Middleton, Chelsea Clinton, Susan Boyle, Mary Thornberry, George Clooney and Sarah Palin. (Palin may not be well-liked, but she attracts viewers. Sometimes people are just as eager to see stories about people they dislike as about people they like.) That's the reason Nightly News constantly shows clips from movies, TV shows and pop music performances. Viewers have indicated that they like to see entertainment on the news, so by showing more of these vacuous types of "news stories", Nightly News manages to attract a larger audience than CBS or ABC. And achieve higher ratings. Which is, of course, the goal at Nightly News. Anything for ratings. That's the motto of Brian Williams and his producers.