The New News

On Sunday night, HBO’s Game of Thrones returned to television screens across Canada and the world for its third season. If you’re like me, your reaction is closer to “So what?” than the unbridled joy that so many of those around me seemed to be experiencing. If you’re of the latter camp, you’ve may have seen this video or a variation of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzI9v_B4sxw

Regardless of how interested you might be in the citizens of Westeros, you have to marvel at how effectively the media has been used to garner interest in the show. The faces of one character or another have graced the covers of entertainment sections, promotional spots have been aired with alarming frequency, and HBO released a steady stream of Thrones related social-media updates—more than 20 over the course of the big day—via their Twitter.

People watch Game of Thrones for the same reason they pay attention to the news: everyone likes a listening to a story. It’s unlikely that you’ll be seeing dragons on the evening news anytime soon, but just think: the news comes on at the same time every night, features the same cast of characters, and is often about people in far away lands doing things that are very far out of the ordinary. Virtually indistinguishable from a serialized HBO drama, right?

This is a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it brings to mind very legitimate questions about the boundary between entertainment and news—a boundary that is becoming increasingly arbitrary and difficult to pin down. Not only do we have programs like The Daily Show and networks like Fox News (which blur the lines between news and comedy, albeit in very different ways), but then there are historical dramas like Zero Dark Thirty and documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth which use the news—or what once was the news—as their subject matter.

In this rich tapestry of editorializing and subterfuge, it’s not much of a stretch to look at the news as just another form of entertainment. This is especially scary when you consider how many people consider the news to be the gospel truth. The goal of communications professionals should be to cut through the static that surrounds so many of the stories in our news today and come as close as possible to providing what journalism is supposed to be all about: an independent, accountable approximation of the  truth.

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