Sunday, January 25, 2009

Popular News: Code for News to an Even Lower Standard

Ever since my first post on journalism, I've been noticing quite a few shady practices in mainstream news. Yesterday, when I wrote about yellow journalism, I noticed some even more weird patterns around the web. (Image: Screen capture of On the CNN website, I noticed a section called "Popular News" below the latest headlines. This news seems to be primarily soft-news or articles from the entertainment industry.

Now, I have nothing against entertainment or soft-news outright, however, I think a news organization like CNN should be prioritizing a bit better. From my observations, on a typical news day, CNN posts 10 headlines under "latest news" and post about 6 soft-news stories under the "popular news" portal page section or in the sections beside it.

Despite the fact that CNN posts more real news than soft-news, the soft-news takes up as much if not more of the portal page's main section. This is a very odd decision in that CNN's brand relies on a tag line like "the most trusted name in news" when their website is increasingly dominated by fluff.

Much is said about the so-called "CNN-Effect" and how it has increased the amount of soft-news and editorialization due to the need to fill 24 hours. Though other news organizations have contributed to this problem, CNN was the root of the trend. Ironically, Fox News dedicates less space to soft-news entertainment stories -- called "Features and Faces" on their portal page.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm not against this type of news categorically, however there is a time and a place for it. Placing this type of news side-by-side with the hard-news of the day is an injustice for the implications of the serious news. It's also interesting to see how these news stories resemble advertisements rather than news articles. They seem to have a "hook" in their title while using buzz words.

Overall, I believe there needs to be a clear distinction between hard- and soft-news for the casual reader. The web blurs the line a lot more readily than television tends to. On TV there are usually different programs for different styles of news, but on the internet these stories can appear right beside each other. This lack of distinction, as well as the fact that these stories are increasingly prevalent, are where I take issue with soft-news. Again, as I have found with all matters of journalistic integrity, the need for responsibility is key to fixing the problem.