Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Paris Hilton, Paris Hilton, Paris...

This, as they say in those TV and radio disaster warnings, is only a test. In the Los Angeles Times, media critic Tim Rutten writes, “If you inserted Paris Hilton's name into your grocery list and posted it on the web, you'd get tens of thousands of hits.”

As a low-hitting blogger, I will be fascinated to see if Rutten is right, but he actually has a good point about what’s happening to journalism, online and otherwise.

He cites “the traditional arc of celebrity for celebrity's sake. First the tabloid media...make you famous for nothing more than being famous. Then it turns in a fury of righteous indignation and devours you for, well, being famous.”

It’s not just celebrity journalism, however. Coverage of political figures like John McCain and even issues such as Congress’ struggle to end the war in Iraq goes through similar cycles of enthusiasm, disenchantment and disgust. Short attention spans and 24/7 babble distract from serious thought about anything or anyone. It’s all about who’s up or down.

”Changing public tastes,” Rutten writes, “may require the serious news media to give more frequent attention to celebrity ephemera. It ought not, however, be the same sort of attention given by the tabloids or by their hyperactive online spawn. The fact that a story you can't avoid covering takes you into the gutter is no excuse for behaving as if you belong there.”

A well-deserved scolding, but don’t bet on seeing or hearing less about Paris Hilton any time soon.

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