Monday, November 12, 2007

Beware the power of gossip

Because of the growth of technology, the media now has the power to feed us information around the clock, and many of us are more than willing to gobble down what is provided.

The desire for fresh news and information is one of the primary challenges that folks in the media face. Twenty-four hours is a lot of time to fill, especially on a slow day.

Because of that, standards regarding what is reported have been lowered in recent years. This compromise is a common complaint the public has against the media, but it hasn't stopped them from tuning in to see what the latest scandal of the day is.

An obvious example of this is how news related to Hollywood celebrities is reported. For better or worse, the latest exploits of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton are a staple of most media outlets.

Most of their exploits contribute little in the form of substance to society. If they were food, the Food and Drug Administration would say they have no nutritional value whatsoever.

However, like kids who can't stop eating bowl after bowl of Frosted Flakes, many people consume this news with an appetite that appears insatiable.

While most of what is reported about these folks is classified as news, it really should not be. Really, it is nothing more than gossip.

For example, in many of these stories, information reported is attributed to anonymous sources. "Sources close to the star..." or "Sources with knowledge of the situation..." are phrases that are often used in these stories.

Of course, this means the information reported could have come from anywhere. Somebody walking a dog could have stopped to peak in a celebrity's backyard and saw something they thought needed to be reported.

Then they peddled their information to a media outlet desperate to fill their programming on that day, and suddenly, a new tabloid headline is born.

Among the worst offenders are the paparazzi. Though that term can have a pretty broad meaning, the paparazzi in this case usually are free-lancers who prowl the streets looking to take photos of celebrities and then sell them.

Of course, the photos that have the most value are ones that show celebrities in compromising positions. Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot of demand for photos of stars on their way to church.

Usually, the type of photo they look for are folks who are coming out of night clubs where the celebrity may have had a little too much to drink or something of that nature.

As we all know, negativity sells in our culture, and this is no different.

Having said all that, there are times when using anonymous sources is acceptable and necessary. In recent history, the best use of anonymous sources was when "Washington Post" reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used them when investigating corruption in President Richard Nixon's administration.

Without using reliable anonymous sources, there is no way they could have successfully pursued the stories they worked on.

Unfortunately, for every legitimate news story that requires using anonymous sources, there are dozens of frivolous ones where news outlets take the cheap and easy way out. And I believe most entertainment reporting falls into that category.

As stated earlier, I believe a lot of entertainment reporting is just an excuse to spread gossip. While most folks don't see what the big deal is, the public's willingness to accept gossip as truth is another example of how calloused our society's heart is getting.

Recently, the LiveScience web site reported on a study that demonstrated how powerful gossip can be. According to that site's story, the results of the study showed that people sometime place so much stock in gossip that they accept it as true even if their own observations suggest otherwise.

Think about it. Gossip can be so powerful that it can overrule observations that we have made with our own eyes.

Gossip hurts especially when we are on the receiving end of it. It is a powerful weapon that can shape attitudes even if there is not hard evidence to support what is being communicated.

This means we need to be very careful about what we listen to and what we say.

We can do a lot of damage without meaning to.


Joltin' Django said...

"Unfortunately, for every legitimate news story that requires using anonymous sources, there are dozens of frivolous ones where news outlets take the cheap and easy way out. And I believe most entertainment reporting falls into that category."

A good many - nay, a great many - major news outlets depend on leaks, hearsay, bitchy-spin, and gossip for "news." 'Tis what keeps 'em in business.

Mister Jimmy said...

Well I don't believe anything I read on the web, except what I read right here!
And at