28 April 2011

Obama, Trump, and Sheen - do we get the news we deserve?

I was walking through the reception room at my office yesterday when I noticed the television.  There was Donald Trump, declaring victory for compelling the conventional wisdom to conclude that the President of the United States was a citizen of the United States.  Or something.

Captain Comb-over has been all over the idiot box lately, insisting that the President's citizenship status was questionable, and his crack research team in Hawaii was unearthing some mind-blowing stuff.  Or something. Sadly, the news media just ate it up despite knowing it was all fake.  It got to the point where the President decided to stop doing his job for 30 minutes so he could go down to the press room to explain once again  that yes, he was born in this country, and perhaps the media might want to cover real news for a change.

This constructive criticism predictably injected a dose of responsibility in the press corps, compelling them to "fact check" and scrutinize Donald Trump's outlandish claims...

Oh, wait, they fact checked the PRESIDENT'S suggestion that this ridiculous side show was item one on their agenda.  In doing so they trotted out the "percentage of the news hole" metric - one that conveniently ignores the editorial decisions of what leads the broadcast or is "above the fold" and what's on page 8.  And buried in their defense was the admission their volume of coverage of the twice-bankrupt bluster-box eclipsed their coverage of the President for a week.  So now the media is covering their coverage of one of the most ridiculous non-stories in recent memory.  Somewhere Jon Stewart is saying, "hey - fake news is MY job."

But how big an issue is this, really?  I thought I'd take a look at "coverage" from a (perhaps) more appropriate perspective - in the age of media convergence, you can't ignore blogs from the rest of whatever Pew decides to call its "news hole."  Online discussions are not perfectly reflective of mainstream media coverage, but I don't think you can deny an association.  Bloggers invariably discuss what's in the news, and many bloggers are indeed journalists.  So how did the online discussion of these events really stack up - and are there any other stories out there we could include for some context?

So I decided to look at the last 90 days of online chatter for three discussions:

  1. The Trump-Obama birther debacle (I excluded references that only mentioned Trump because they may have been related to his TV shows or other business interests),
  2. Any blog reference whatsoever to the term "Social Security," and
  3. Charlie Sheen.

Here's what I got, using Nielsen's BlogPulse Trend Search:

Even today, in what is presumably the nadir of the Charlie Sheen saga, he's still arguably bigger than "birtherism"  and social security.  His initial burst in March dwarfs both of those other issues combined.  And don't get me started on the royal wedding.

Of course, bloggers are consumers of news more than they are creators of it.  Maybe the media is just giving the people what they want.  But I thought journalism was supposed to include some kind of professional, editorial judgment on what is news and what isn't.  In my opinion, editors are letting us down here.

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