Witnessing Media History

I’m trying to wrap my mind around a world where TV goes the way of print newspapers; it’s becoming easier to imagine every day.

We have witnessed significant turning points in media history already in our lifetimes – the growth of the internet and the recent shift to Web 2.0 and mobile technology, the slow death of print media, and the proliferation of specialized media outlets catering to niche audiences.  The announcement yesterday that HBO will offer direct-to-consumer subscriptions, and the announcement today that CBS will do the same, marks a shift in long-standing corporate models, and will inevitably lead to changes in the content that is produced by these companies and consumers’ access to and use of media content.

Companies like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu have changed the game for broadcast and cable TV, much like blogs, websites, RSS feeds, and social media have forever changed the news landscape. I remember flipping through channels to “see what’s on” in much the same way I remember flipping through a newspaper to see “what’s happening.”  But, taking a step back and reflecting for a moment on my own media use, I can’t recall a time in the past week – or month for that matter – that I did either of those things.  I have, however, cruised around Twitter and Facebook, where I closely follow national and international news, and flipped through my DVR, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Go to choose my entertainment.

We already see the repercussions of these shifts in consumer use in the programming that’s offered.  For example, many of us grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons.  As of September, Saturday morning cartoons on broadcast TV no longer exist.  Why?  I’ll use my family as a case-in-point: My kids have never watched cartoons on broadcast TV at home.  Much like me, my pre-schoolers scroll through the offerings we have streaming through our Roku.  In fact, when they have had to watch broadcast TV while traveling, they cry and whine when commercials come on because they don’t know what they are.  So, what’s a content provider to do?  Sell their TV shows directly to us via streaming services and become one of the options for my kids and I to select from among our Roku channels.

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Too much ‘fake news’ or too little media literacy?

Posts on Facebook and Twitter can make it difficult to distinguish between news, satire, opinion, and intentional misinformation created to generate web traffic.  The Boston Globe argues that we have a “fake news problem.”   It’s also a media literacy problem.

In Chapter 8 of  Becoming a Critic, we look at different types of humor and provide a coding scheme to help people recognize each type.  Satire “makes fun of well known people and situations.”  Fake news, like The Daily Show, make fun of politicians, current events, and campaigns and package it – using production and narrative techniques – in a way that mimics but doesn’t exactly replicate ‘real’ news.

On the other hand, false news stories that are created to seem real are not satire; these are a type of victim humor.  Victim humor is when we laugh at peoples’ misunderstanding or ignorance.  In the case of false news, the people who comment on and share these news stories are the “victims” to be laughed at for their misunderstanding.  It is an online, modern-day version of Punk’d, and every single one of us is a potential victim if we aren’t critical, literate media consumers.

Perhaps we have just stumbled upon an important qualitative distinction between satirical “fake news” and the victim humor in “false news”  online.