How Opinion Became More Important Than Fact and The Future of News (Part I)

From Thinking Outside The Boxe’s Sydney Correspondent: Over the past 50 years or so, and more particularly in the last twenty, we have witnessed a shift in society which has resulted in the majority of us being more interested in, and placing greater emphasis, on opinion rather than the facts. This article will trace the development of this phenomenon from our focus on celebrity through the advent of the internet and the rise of social media and citizen journalism. Finally we will ask where this will all lead and what it will mean in a society that is embracing technological communication at the same pace that it is abandoning traditional sources of “news”.

But it is important to remember the important contribution technology is making in reporting news, especially where mainstream media sources are questionable. This article is presented in two parts. The first part looks at the history of opinion and how it is readily treated as ‘news’ by both the media and the public. The second part of the article will focus on the broader question of what this growing trend means for the future of journalism both in the mainstream press and online.

The origins of our current preference for opinion rather than fact can be traced right back to the glory days of Hollywood when we were enchanted by the famous actors and their celebrity lives. Many actors and actresses were typecast so we easily believed that these performances reflected their real personas. Whether this or the reverse is true is a moot point. Stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe lived fast, shone bright, and tragically died far too young. Over time the names of these celebrities changed but our fascination with them has only increased. Our fascination with the stars was rarely sated by the majority of newspapers but demand was somewhat met with the advent of gossip magazines who dedicated each glossy page to the lives of famous actors and musicians (and any other kind of celebrity). Unsurprisingly just like the rest of us celebrities valued and continue to value their privacy and more often than not resent the intrusion of the media into their lives.

The camera toting paparazzi are one group of celebrity followers who are reviled by celebrities and many magazine readers alike. It is interesting to note that as celebrities increasingly try to hide from the media spotlight the more pictures of them are worth, and so paparazzi go to greater lengths to get the photos they want. According to a Forbes article in 2011 the most expensive celebrity photo was one of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt which People magazine paid $4.1 million for. This is not a photo taken by a paparazzi but it does illustrate how much photos of celebrities can be worth. Another example that proves this point is that paparazzi are now using small remote controlled ‘drones’ equipped with cameras to get access to vantage points they cannot reach themselves. Paparazzi in the French Riviera used this technology to take hundreds of photos of Paris Hilton. A video of the incident is available on YouTube (the link is provided below).

The growing number of celebrity focused magazines (and celebrity websites) has obviously created a need for editors to fill their pages and this is sometimes not easily done, particularly in the case of certain celebrities. However in order to satisfy the public demand pages are now being increasingly filled with something other than fact: rumor and opinion. Increasingly magazines are quoting ‘close friends’ and other inside sources willing to spill the beans on their celebrity friends. But as these people are offered more and more money many far from credible sources are coming forward so that now magazines and websites are all too often publishing little more than a series of ‘Chinese whispers’ accompanied by blurry photos. This so called ‘news’ is a world away from mainstream journalism where sources are rigorously checked. Celebrities do need the public to help maintain their careers and income so it is not totally ironic to consider the fact that they are using PR firms to manipulate the media. They are doing this so they can gain more control of their image in an environment in which seemingly their every embarrassing moment is captured on film.

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