Information Warfare: January 31, 2002

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Ever wondered why the news often seems, well, "empty." Put it down to supply and demand. Over the last two decades, the hours of TV national news has more than tripled. But there isn't three times as much news, and the larger number of separate news outlets (ABC, NBC and MSNBC, CBS, CNN, FOX) puts everyone under a lot of pressure to come up with different angle to the news. The competition spread to the print media, especially the major daily newspapers and the newsweeklies. The solution has been punditry. Now your classic pundit is someone who can rattle on about a news event, adding some useful facts and insights. But often this becomes little more than color commentary, and not very filling material at that. Even that has become news. There are several organizations that monitor the news and compile stats on what's going on. The Project for Excellence in Journalism examined 2,496 media stories on the War on Terrorism during September, November and December. They divided the stories into two categories; factual, and interpretive (some pundit just providing anything but facts.) The findings confirmed the impression that when there wasn't news, the media would fake it. In September, when we had acres of wreckage in New York City and a big manhunt, 75 percent of the stories were factual and only 25 percent were fluff. But by December, most of the action had moved to Afghanistan, were trigger happy locals and American military media controls reduced the amount of facts to report on. The fluff stories were now 37 percent. But it was worse on TV, where 43 percent of the stories were light on the facts and heavy on the empty chatter. Only 18 percent of newspaper stories fit this description. Or, as the old saying in newsrooms goes; "don't let facts get in the way of a good story."

 


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