When we discuss the pivotal shifts currently occurring in journalism, the rapid expansion of online media and the departure of printed press is often among the first things mentioned.
While this shift is without a doubt taking place, there is another transformation that deserves just as much, if not more, attention as the digitalization of our news: mainstream news channels are no longer the leaders in reporting hard-hitting stories. This position is now being filled by a recently popularized media form: fake news.
I am sure many of you have watched or have heard of programs such The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and The Colbert Report, the latter of which recently celebrated its finale. All of these programs mix biting satire with their presentation of real events.
This type of entertainment has proven itself popular with audiences, and has therefore led to a great expansion of the genre. But what no one accounted for when these programs emerged was that they would replace mainstream news channels in terms of the best source for relevant and important stories.
Increasingly often, national news broadcasters report on subjects that are of little substance. Mainstream news is now more like a source for gossip than anything else — reporting on trivialized events rather than controversial, important material. After skimming last week’s headlines, I was unable to find any in-depth coverage that hadn’t been watered down to keep audiences content.
Mainstream news now reports on trivialized events that contain little controversial material.
That being said, it’s not hard to imagine why fake news has seamlessly absorbed the title mainstream media once held. These programs pick up on the relevant and significant stories of the day, and create broad-minded editorials to provide the audience with effective and entertaining analyses of these events.
The main reason for the apparent reversal in content is that ‘fake news’ does not have to worry about offending parts of their audience for addressing these controversial issues, mainly because they are protected by their label as a satirical news outlet.
Mainstream outlets, on the other hand, do not have the same freedom to openly debate or criticize world events, as they have become preoccupied with the business side of media. If they lose their audience, they lose their revenue. The more large-scale media corporations focus on attracting audiences, the more journalistic substance they have to sacrifice to keep said audiences happy.
I find this particularly troubling. As much as I enjoy news-parody programs, networks should not have to compromise their reporting for any reason. After all, good investigative journalism involves finding fringe opinions and controversial stories to create a larger picture of the global and local communities of which we are a part.
Instead of avoiding the big stories in favour of inoffensive fluff, mainstream news should reinvest in investigative journalism to try to uncover the controversial stories that they would typically shy away from. While ‘fake news’ provides some great laughs, it should not have to replace the sources it mocks. Mainstream media must reclaim their authoritative and professional status by moving away from the safe topics that make them indistinguishable from BuzzFeed.