The ratings war between the cable news networks is disheartening to watch for a number of reasons. Firstly, who gives a shit other than the shareholders? Secondly, why do the anchors keep telling us when they are suppose to be delivering news?
The numbers are always diddled by the networks anyway, so it doesn’t actually mean anything. As Chez Pazienza, former producer at CNN writes:
The powers that be can always be counted on to trot out an in-house
statistician to cleverly spin those numbers in favor of the television
operation that pays his or her salary.
The result usually sounds something like this:
“Well, yes, our competition is
stomping us like we were a hippie at Altamont, seven days a week, 24
hours a day across the board. But if you look at the all-important,
advertiser-coveted demographic of mixed-race 42-43-year-old women whose
names begin with the letter “M” — who live in the vicinity of a used
Kia dealership and who claim to have once slept with the bassist in a
mid-level rock band back in the 80s — then, hey, we’re #1 from 10:19am
to 10:23am, Tuesday through Thursday. Great job, everybody!”
The sad fact is, the ratings war is about as phony as the news itself
and a sign of how badly screwed up journalism is in the U.S. Journalism and news shouldn’t be about ratings – it’s supposed to be a public service. As much as I like Keith Olbermann, he shouldn’t be confused with a news anchor or a journalist. The money follows brash personalities with extreme opinions, and shuns serious news and analysis. It highlights the serious flaw in the ‘free market’ philosophy that whatever makes money must be good.
The BBC is a publicly funded corporation that provides serious news for the British people. It isn’t sexy, but it provides a somewhat balanced and unbiased view of current events. While numbers are important (news can’t really matter if no one is watching it), the main aim is to uphold rigorous standards of journalism. Some weeks it may be popular, some weeks not. But it isn’t driven by an insatiable need to be liked. It isn’t perfect, but it provides a good model that others could follow. Because news driven by stars stops being about news. It’s about them, and that isn’t news.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.