by Chris Clabaugh
Entertainment news sources such as E! and TMZ are very popular among the general public and are often a heavy portion of the news diet people receive on a daily basis. However, entertainment journalism is often ridiculed for it’s lack of credibility and seemingly less important news items. Is entertainment news real journalism, and is it hurting the reputation of other sectors of the journalism world?
Let’s look at the first question. Stories that end up being expressed to the public are decided in the newsroom based on each story’s newsworthiness. And a story’s newsworthiness is decided on a multitude of factors: proximity, prominence, unusualness, timeliness, and impact. Local television broadcasts can easily be seen to pass these tests.
For example, reporting a traffic jam during the morning commute. The jam is very close to the city where many people work. It will impact many people’s travel plans, and is very timely to the morning commuters. It is also possible that it is unusual for there to be a traffic jam on this particular road, or the event that caused the traffic jam is unusual. Prominence is most likely not a factor in this example, but it is possible.
Now let’s look at something considered to be entertainment news, for example a famous celebrity couple getting a divorce (which unfortunately happens far more than it should in the acting industry.) The first and usually most significant driver of entertainment news is prominence, which this case has. The story is concerning a famous couple who many people have seen in movies and can recognize the face and name even though they have never actually met the couple.
Next, unsualness. It is not every day a well known couple get divorced. Again, it can seem like every day someone is getting divorced in the acting world, but for this particular couple it is unusual. The news is timely, as the couple just announced it a few hours ago.
The story could have an impact on the couple’s children, or the charity groups the couple is a part of, or the next movie you were planning to see. Proximity to audience is not usually a factor for many celebrity stories, but again it is a possibility.
This break down of entertainment newsworthiness compared to local broadcasts shows that entertainment news is judged on the same principles and can in fact be what some call “real journalism.”
Dr. David Williams, an adjunct sociology professor at Arizona State University, believes the entertainment industry has it’s place in our society.
“We project ourselves into [celebrities’] lives,” Williams said. “We want to learn about them. ‘Are they better than me?'”
And in cases where entertainment news reports the misadventures and shortcomings of celebrities, Williams brought up the German word Schadenfreude, meaning the feeling of pleasure at the misfortune of others.
“We can’t kill gladiators in the Colosseum anymore, so we want to see people making fools out of themselves on tv,” said Williams.
It is human nature to want to be entertained, which can carry over into all aspects of life.
“We demand to be entertained,” Williams said. “…what we say to who we pick to spend the rest of our lives with is, ‘You better entertain me. You better give me plenty of love. You better give me all the love. If not, I’m going back to Marilyn Monroe.'”
There is a definite societal and human need to be entertained, but the question still remains if it has infected other reliable journalistic sources.
Mark Lodato, Assistant Dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University, thinks a big struggle in the newsroom is finding the balance between what the audience wants to know about, and what the news source has a responsibility to tell them.
“You see more and more programs that are this sort of mishmash between news, and entertainment, and talk.” Lodato said.
Lodato doesn’t believe the entertainment industry is doing much harm to the other sectors of journalism, however.
“I think there are so many outlets out there today, there’s room for everything,” Lodato said. “It’s up to the reader or viewer to be responsible…so you get a balance of different types of news.”
Christine Marth, a senior at the Cronkite school interested in reporting entertainment news, thinks that the credibility of other news sources has not been corrupted by entertainment news, but rather every type of journalism has a duty to keep itself reputable to its viewers.
“Not being credible, people say that about every news source. They don’t just say that about entertainment,” Marth said.
The most important part about journalism is accuracy, which can be achieved or lost depending on the news-maker and their dedication to it. Whether it be sports, political, economic, or entertainment journalism, it can all be done credibly and efficiently.
It appears the question is not if entertainment news in general is real journalism. Instead, start asking yourself if the sources you seek out are accurate and fair.
Now, let’s all get back to reading about Kate Middleton’s morning sickness.