The Decline of Serious-Issue Journalism: Why Do the Media Focus on the Trivial and the Negative?

By Heath, Peter | Communication World, November-December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Decline of Serious-Issue Journalism: Why Do the Media Focus on the Trivial and the Negative?


Heath, Peter, Communication World


I enjoyed an interesting blog-based discussion recently with an industry colleague. He feared that the global recession is accelerating consumer intolerance, causing a rise in business-bashing and an undue media focus on relatively trivial stories. As evidence, he pointed to coverage in our major newspapers in New Zealand about a moldy burger bun sold at a fast-food outlet.

He hopes it's a temporary thing, and that the "good old Kiwi" character trait of giving individuals and businesses a "fair go" will rise to the fore again soon.

But I'm far from convinced. My view is that we're living in an age of instant gratification and growing distrust of business and authority. The combination of these factors, rather than the recession, is what's driving dissatisfaction, intolerance and more demanding (impatient? unforgiving?) customer behavior.

Combine this with the trend toward "citizen journalism" and the instant, global and potentially devastating impact of social media and other web-based communication, and we have the makings of a trend that will likely have an impact on us for far longer than the current economic blues.

If, like me, you feel there's a growing distrust of business and authority, perhaps the real issue we should be discussing is why, exactly? Too much "spin"? Too much "presentation"? Too much listening to lawyers? Too much corporate-speak? Too little real and meaningful (for this, read "two-way") engagement between organizations and the people important to them?

As for why our media deem it appropriate to devote space to trivial stories: again, little to do with the recession, I'm afraid. What we're seeing here in lil' ol' New Zealand is nothing more than a continuation of another global trend, this time caused by the unprecedented proliferation of information sources. Sadly, serious-issue journalism (or at least detailed analysis and interpretation of the issues) is increasingly becoming the preserve of specialist outlets, driving mainstream media (print and broadcast) down the populist route. …

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