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“Progressive” Al Gore seeks in vain to turn the clock back on news 200 years 5/27/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Downscale news, Gore.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is calling on the news media to stop their coverage of “trivialities and nonsense” (e.g. celebrity gossip) and focus on serious political issues. But, to find a time when his ideal news environment existed, you would have to go back almost 200 years, to the era immediately before the steam engine was harnessed to the printing press. Back then, news stories were tailored for the tastes of the affluent, “respectable public” because newspapers were unaffordable for everyone else (e.g. a daily newspaper’s cost was 14% of an average farm worker’s daily wages). When the introduction of low cost steam engine technology allowed papers to drop their prices to as little as 1¢ (the “Penny Press”), the Hoi Polloi joined the readership, forcing newspapers to cater to their low-brow tastes — human interest stories, news of crime and sex, and other stories that fulfilled prurient interests. The race for the bottom reached a bottom with the epic “Yellow Journalism” battle between the NY papers of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The respectable public revolted and marched to the NY Times’ rallying cry of “All the News that’s Fit to Print,” leading papers to shut out news for downscale interests for the better part of a century.

Since then, news for downscale tastes never went away — it just found expression in other places, like a few big city papers, supermarket tabloids, celebrity magazines, TV talk shows (e.g. Jerry Springer), cable TV, and increasingly the Internet. And lately, Fox’s Greta Van Susteren and CNNHN’s Nancy Grace have proven that even the upscale have a taste for human interest/crime/sex/titillating news. Now that typical news consumers have more news choices than 3 networks and a metro paper, just how likely is it that they will ever go back to the serious, government-centric news that has dominated the last few decades? If Al Gore’s predictions about climate change are as far off as his visions for the future of news, we ought to be preparing for the next ice age.


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