A Welcome Back Message from the Editor
Information-starved as I was during my lethargic summer, I at least made attempts to slouch from the bed to the couch and absorb my daily dose of the twenty-four hour news cycle. I knew that somewhere in the world, a young asylum-seeker was holed up in a Russian airport, a tumultuous nation was about to overthrow a democratically elected president, and a massive government program designed to revolutionize healthcare was instead jacking up the prices on generic prescriptions. But to my delight and awe, when I turned on the television I was awakened to the light and truth of the world by Diane Sawyer talking about how to exchange my broken iPhone for chump change.
The steady progression from reliable reporting and hard-hitting stories to QVC advertisements and sex advice columns bodes well for Durex condoms but poorly for the media industry. A major concern is the overall decline of credibility among larger-scale institutions: the Pew Research Center for People and the Press released a report on August 16, 2012 that depicted a near-universal double-digit drop in credibility ratings across all thirteen major news networks and publications surveyed over a period of a decade. Even accounting for partisanship, both Republicans and Democrats rated news agencies as comparatively less reliable. There are multiple reasons for this decline—Stephen Colbert, after all, is a much more factually-based pundit than Chris Matthews—but a significant cause is highlighted by the divide between audience values and “trendy” media topics such as sex, drugs, money, and scandal. Those select items certainly attract a crowd, but they tend to siphon off an existing base of businesspeople and families who expect gossip to come from the National Enquirer, not The New York Times. As one blogger on Mediaite muses, “a newspaper was never considered something you had to hide from your kids, right?”
Unfortunately, the transformation of the media into a homogenized tabloid is driven less by the easily scapegoated influence of business and more by a potent concoction of information passed off as common sense. Sure, the big bad corporations have massive roles in communications, but the desire for wealth certainly impacted the profitable post-Hearst era of increased journalistic integrity and investigation. Instead, the conventional wisdom of the modern media industry is that provocation leads to success. Technical phrases and longer prose are viewed as boring and anathema to media goals, even if a recap box or “Five Ways to Sex Him Up” columns grant little real insight into their respective topics or, well, life in general. And what happens when more in-depth articles are buried by a constant barrage of short, truncated, loud, and provoking writing? Take it from professional provocateur Jon Stewart: “If everything is amplified, we hear nothing.”
As a blogger, I admit that I stand on very shaky ground joining the chorus of voices accusing the media of pandering to the lowest common denominator. Heck, I somehow managed to bring up condoms four sentences into the first blog post of the fall semester! However, even this glorified internet commenter understands that fluff articles, fabricated provocation, and features on Anthony’s wiener should have a much smaller share of the media information exchange. Sure, it’s okay to bring up lowbrow conversation at the right time and place, but I’d rather not feel like I’m stuck in a fratboy pow-wow every time I turn on the nightly news.
Thus, a note about this blog. The Red & the Blue is and will continue to be a blend of the controversial and the classy, embracing juicy rumors and academic discourse alike. The beauty of this medium is that an audience can pick and choose what to read, which bloggers to follow, and when to contribute to the site’s political cage match reasoned discourse. Having pointed out the flaws in current media practice, I encourage you—students, alumni, professors, politicos, pundits—to use your choices to help restore the place of respectable dialogue in our communication channels, here on Penn’s campus and wherever life may take you. Above all, I’m glad you’re tuned in to this little political project in the big ol’ Ivy League, and I look forward to being a reliably consistent, if irrecoverably biased, writer in our politicized world.