Where there’s a Will, there’s a right and wrong way (according to Will McAvoy)

Everything I’ve learnt about disliking anyone that calls him- or herself a journalist when they’re not* (okay, not dislike but eyebrows will be slightly arched in question) or a show that “produces the news” when they show only a small fragment, I learnt from Will McAvoy. Oh, who’s Will McAvoy I hear you ask? He’s the egotistical, narcissistic news anchor for “News Night” on the HBO series The Newsroom. He makes his opinions clear to everyone and anyone who’ll listen but you can’t help but love him because he will do anything for his staff.

I like to think that in my nearly twenty-two years of living, I’ve been able to develop a firm sense of beliefs and to be able to construct my own opinions. So why is it that when I saw an advert on Channel 10 for their newest infotainment program, This Week Live, the voice of Will McAvoy and his dislike for such programs popped into my head? Without having seen a single episode and based purely on the ad, I decided I would dislike it.

The division between what is ‘hard news’ and what is ‘soft news’ has steadily been declining as more channels pop up on both free-to-air and cable television therefore creating more hours in which to air such programs. Tom Stoppard perfectly summarises this change, stating:

The whole notion of journalism being an institution whose fundamental purpose is to educate and inform and even, one might say, elevate, has altered under commercial pressure, perhaps, into a different kind of purpose, which is to divert and distract and entertain.

If you look through a TV guide for any given midweek day, a fair amount of the days programming is devoted to shows involving some aspect of news, whether it’s hard news like the nightly news broadcast or panel shows such Paul Murray Live and the Contrarians (both Sky News), which discuss and analyse the day’s news or soft news/‘infotainment’ programs like This Week Live and The Project. Shows such asPaul Murray Live and the Contrarians are few and far between in our television guide and when we rely on the news so heavily to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world, why do we prefer infotainment programs where news is but a small segment engulfed in entertaining fluff rather than the hard hitting, information packed shows?

David Shaw wrote an article for the LA Times in 2004 in which he answered this question. His response? That too many people are intellectually lazy (Will McAvoy would have a field day with this phrase). That was nine years ago and the same patterns still exist. He pointed out that people:

…don’t want to sort through conflicting reports [that are] presented in a relatively dry, factual fashion to figure out what’s important and who’s right…they want pre-packaged news [that’s] presented in small, entertaining bites.

This evolution in our news consumption habits and in turn, the type of news programs produced and broadcast can be attributed to a change in cultural views of news and journalism. Another attribution is that as our lives get busier, what we view as an important aspect to our day alters and this has had (and is continuing to have) an impact on the consumption of news by future generations. David Shaw writes:

Young people are increasingly growing up in homes where they don’t see their parents reading newspapers every day, so they don’t associate that act with being a worthwhile activity, with being an adult.

Hard news programs are taking the full brunt of this change, with some shows becoming a distant memory for regular viewers (anyone remember The 7.30 Report on the ABC?). Entertainment itself is having an effect on news with traditional news programs opting to feature more entertaining segments as well as forms of entertainment (e.g. interactive twitter feeds and hashtags – Q&A) in order to attract more viewers. Even the hosts have become a celebrity in their own right. Television channels no longer advertise just “the news”, the word ‘with’ always follows. No longer would you turn on Channel Seven at 7 o’clock to watch “Seven News”; you would turn it on and find yourself watching “Seven News with Kay McGrath.” Likewise, more people tune in to certain news programs just for the host. In recent years, Tony Jones (host of the ABC’s Q&A) has seen an increase in popularity amongst young adults.

Whether you’re a Will McAvoy who believes in the sanctity of good journalism or a Nina Howard (Newsroom tabloid “journalist”) who’s adamant that entertainment is news, could it be argued that infotainment is doing to traditional news programs what online news was said to do to print? And in a world where time is becoming a rare and desired commodity, is it better that shows such as This Week Live not exist at all or that they do, even if the amount of news discussed is minimal? Personally, I’ll stick to my hard news programs but I won’t deny that shows such as This Week Live don’t have their value. Especially with segments such as this:

*The term ‘journalist’ is thrown around so loosely these days. I’m referring to those at the broadest end of the spectrum.
I apologise if I’ve insulted any “journalists” out there.

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