FOR THE WEEK OF JUNE 29, 2009
Readers and journalists groan under a glut of celebrity news
Take a look at your newspaper's front page and online home page. Are there any reports about celebrities and entertainment? How many?
Ask your friends and family how much they like celebrity news and gossip. Encourage them to be honest.
Over the next week, keep count of the number of celebrity and serious news stories you read.
The deaths actress Farrah Fawcett and singer Michael Jackson on the same day last week overwhelmed all other news on newspaper websites, television screens and social networks.
Reports about North Korea threatening the United States with missiles and Iranian police rounding up journalists and protesters were buried beneath an avalanche of celebrity news. Cable news channels and all three major broadcast networks aired special prime-time reports on the deaths.
Interest was intense. Readers stalled computers at Google and the Los Angeles Times in their search for more information on the "King of Pop." Twitter and Facebook nearly collapsed as users talked about the deaths on the social networks.
Jackson fans around the world set up makeshift shrines and held candle-light vigils. In one of the strangest tributes, 1,500 inmates at a Philippines prison choreographed and taped a dance routine set to his music.
However, even in the heart of the the entertainment industry, Los Angeles Times columnist Timothy Rutten was complaining that the serious news media was having a "collective nervous breakdown" in its obsession with celebrity news.
"Whatever they say, many newspaper editors and TV news producers have begun to allow website hits and social media volume to ... dictate coverage and the play of news stories," he wrote.
At Yahoo, readers responded with a strong "YES!" when asked if there was too much news coverage on Jackson. "This is the strangest, most frivolous country on the planet to spend so much time on that weirdo," one wrote.
Of course,heavy celebrity coverage didn't start with Jackson's death.
At Yahoo's annual meeting this month, CEO Carol Bartz sympathized with a man who practically begged her to take some of the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" and other celebrity news off the home page.
"I am sick of hearing about those guys with the eight kids," he said. "Please stop dumbing down the home page."
"I'm the same way," Bartz replied." If I see another Britney Spears thing, I'm gonna throw up."
Columnist says: "No reasonable editor or producer should ignore the kind of public interest we're seeing (about Michael Jackson). But surrendering utterly to it ultimately undercuts what's genuinely valuable about serious news media." - Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
Reader says: "I was watching a half-an-hour long news program and over half of that was about Michael Jackson. It drove me insane. There are other, more important things happening in the world." - Liz C., Yahoo forum
CEO says: "Even though people don't like to declare it, there's a lot of sneaky people that love that kind of news. " - Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz
Front Page Talking Points Archive