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2006 January 28 Saturday
Aaron Brown Says Cable News Viewers Want Shallow Fare

After getting replaced by Anderson Cooper Aaron Brown says that TV news viewers click away from intellectually heavy news stories.

Brown said he tried to give viewers a balanced diet of light and serious news with NewsNight. "But I always knew when I got to the Brussels sprouts, I was on thin ice," he said.

When NewsNight spent four hours covering the arrest of actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, Brown received thousands of e-mails criticizing the amount of time the show spent on the story. Nevertheless, that show, which aired in April 2002, received the highest ratings of any program since NewsNight's coverage of the November 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587.

"Television is the most perfect democracy," Brown said. "You sit there with your remote control and vote." The remotes click to another channel when serious news airs, but when the media covers the scandals surrounding Laci Peterson, the Runaway Bride or Michael Jackson, "there are no clicks then," the journalist said.

Over half the US population have IQs below 100 and the percentage of lower IQ people is growing. So what does he expect? Any coverage that attempts to explain the complex causes of events goes over the heads of at least three quarters of the public. Most people just can't handle that much complexity and see no reason to put themselves through intellectual workouts when watching the news.

Also, my guess is that smarter people in America are either watching C-SPAN or financial news or, more likely, get their news from reading. TV news tends to appeal to those who do not want to read or can not read (Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener/Chauncey Gardiner: "I like to watch TV").

The irony about Aaron Brown pining for the old pre-cable days when the regular nightly news anchors ruled the air is that the famous nightly news anchors of previous decades in America (Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, etc) were not brilliant men. They were smarter than average. But they did not have special insights and there was never a great renaissance in TV news reporting. The skills required to make appealing news anchors never overlapped well with the skills needed to understand economics, history, science, technology, and other areas which can provide real understanding.

Then there are problems in human cognition aside from IQ. People get a drug-like high from shutting down their reasoning facilities in support of their political tribe. So Fox News functions to give junkies their fixes. So does partisan coverage on other news channels. You can't appeal to addicts with reason. They want their partisan fix.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 January 28 02:00 PM  Media Critique


Comments
crush41 said at January 30, 2006 10:48 AM:

According to Pew Research 48% of college grads, 29% with some college, and 23% of high-school or less get their news online. In terms of age, younger news hounds stay informed via online sources more than their elders (36%, 31%, 29%, 18%, 9%, and 3% from youngest to oldest cohort). So younger tv viewers are probably even less likely than the older ones to be intellectually curious.

As you allude to, the continuation of this trend will shift the average tv viewer left on the bell curve. That will lead to the sensationalization of more Scott Peterson trials, continually pushing the brighter viewers from tv to some other news source (chiefly online). It's a self-reinforcing circle.

I hear that local news in Los Angeles is comprised mostly of car chases. As the US comes to look demographically more and more like LA, that's what we get to look forward to.

Randall Parker said at January 30, 2006 3:58 PM:

crush41,

Thanks, interesting facts.

Yes, the IQ of the average TV viewer will drop both due to demographic causes (large numbers of dumb immigrants and smart people having fewer babies than dummies do) and because smarter people will use the internet more.

However, eventually the internet and TV are going to merge. We might see the development of high IQ video news channels at that point. The ability to narrow cast content to small numbers of people strikes me as an opportunity to develop video feeds for people smart enough to understand complex concepts.

Stephen said at January 31, 2006 7:16 PM:

I was once an avid consumer of tv and paper news, but now 99% of my news comes from Google News, which is followed up with a browse of a specialist blogger on any news item that takes my fancy. You can be reasonably certain that the specialist blogger would have blogged in detail about the particular issue a week or two before MSM gets the story.

Sadly, while I consider myself reasonably well informed about international and national news, now that I don't get the local newspapers I don't know any local news.

Sal said at February 1, 2006 12:11 PM:

There will be no change in immigration policy until the damn the borders Kristolites lose influence over American policy.

gay cj said at February 3, 2006 8:48 PM:

A majority of subscribers to cable television (and those who would watch news in english) are white, Randall. You got something against white people?

Maggie said at April 3, 2006 3:22 PM:

What is so great about Aaron Brown? He is just a small town anchor with lacquered, woven hair....dyed to boot. I slept with him once after 911 and he was just as boring in bed as he is on tv.

BOZ said at April 4, 2006 11:11 AM:

I did him too. I guess he swings both ways.


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