The dumbing down and "info-tainment" of news shows is disturbing. When I was growing up news programs were a serious presentation of national and international news or local news without personal opinion or dog and pony shows. There were shows with political discussion and opinion, but for the most part in a civilized manner. News anchors didn't say "Get this!" before reading a story. (One of my pet peeves.) We weren't told or manipulated into how we should feel about people and events in the news. At least not that I remember.
I remember an episode of Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" several years ago, I think just post 9/11, with the actress Theresa Russell as a guest. She'd been living in England and said how struck she was watching the news in the U.S., by the dramatic music accompanying news stories. Why and when did it become this way? Do we all have such attention spans that we can't sit through the news without bells and whistles? Did it start with the breathless coverage of O.J. Simpson's white Bronco racing down the freeway? Why are they showing videos of chickens riding Roombas on the evening news?!
Things took a bad turn in America, and that makes me, and presumably many of us, feel a certain despair about our country. Sorry for my rant; this is just something I think and worry about a lot.
This is also something that bothers me a great deal. The origin of this transformation began when the networks ended the separation between their non-profit news divisions and their for-profit entertainment divisions. In the new set-up, news programming had to show a profit, or else the network execs had to answer to the stockholders. Originally, the news was seen as a badge of honor, respectability, and civic duty; something to be proud of. But all that went out the window in the chase for more eyes and dollars. So it became a game of sensationalistic reporting.
The next step in the evolution of garbage tv news was the advent of the so-called "tabloid" syndicated "news" shows in the late 80's. Things like INSIDE EDITION and A CURRENT AFFAIR brought a new level of over-produced, fear mongering, hysteria to the news format, courtesy of the format's inventor, Rupert Murdoch. The shows were successful, and despite editorial outcry over the cheapening of the news, the networks slowly started to adopt the tabloid style.
The last major step, and the final nail in the coffin of old-school news, was the introduction of the 24 hour news stations. CNN got an early start in the 80's, and managed to maintain a level of professional integrity for a while, mainly because they had no competition. But when Fox News and MSNBC invaded the airwaves, it became a real battle for ratings, and to fill the 24 requirement. Fox News shot to the top, especially after 9/11, with their patented blend of non-stop fear and outrage. After dominating the ratings amongst the 24/7 news networks for so long, it was only a matter of time (and the retirement of the last generation of news men & women that maintained ethical standards) before the major networks started to adopt what was working so well for Fox.
The old notions of integrity and civic responsibility in the news are gone. The nightly news is now just another profit engine, part of a larger corporate structure that could care less how much you know, just that you buy their products. It's why for the past month, I've seen nearly nightly reports on the new STAR WARS film on the ABC nightly news, since both properties belong to Disney. Since the installation of David Muir as anchor, this same news program announced amidst much fanfare, their new partnership with ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, the syndicated showbiz gossip show. That says it all, really.