As media ownership becomes more consolidated and more reliant on advertising as a source of profit, the quality of news that is distributed declines. This is because owners, who tend to be extremely wealthy individuals, need to protect their conservative business interests in order to maintain their wealth, and advertisers need to maintain a “buying mood” in order to best market their products (see A Propaganda Model by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky). To do this, the corporate media cover “Junk Food News” rather than important, newsworthy stories.
A good example of a recent Junk Food News story is Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement. On February 1, 2017, Beyoncé posted an Instagram picture announcing that she was pregnant with twins. Following this announcement, the media was inundated with news stories praising Beyoncé, criticizing her, questioning the validity of her pregnancy, etc. Major news sources, from CNN to the New York Times to Buzzfeed, reported on every aspect of the announcement. Not only did the media effectively disseminate the announcement, but they also continued to report on the story even a month later.
This news story is the perfect example of entertainment and celebrity life being passed off as actual news. Beyoncé’s pregnancy does not actually affect anyone’s life, outside of her family, and it is not a matter of great urgency. The only purpose that this story serves is to entertain and distract the public. As the world focused on Beyoncé, a number of more newsworthy events went underreported or unreported.
Maine media, such as the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News, also reported on Beyoncé’s pregnancy. However, around the same time (February 18th) Chance Baker, a 22-year-old black man. was shot to death in Portland by a police officer. One local news station WCSH6 reported sparingly on the events and the Portland Press Herald ran a story emphasizing Baker’s ‘criminal’ past. TruthOut was the only news outlet to run a story questioning the systemic issues related to police killings.
It is important to note that not only is Baker’s death underreported, but also when it is reported on there is strong bias in favor of the officer. For example, the headline of the Portland Press Herald article is “Man killed by Portland officer had struggled to keep his life on track”. The article then goes on to detail Baker’s history of homelessness and his alleged history with drugs. This all conveniently ignores the fact, which TruthOut reported, that witness statements and police statements regarding the shooting vary wildly.
The news already has an inherent disregard for the newsworthiness of systemic issues, such as racism, police shootings, and even homelessness. However, when a story like Baker’s comes up against a story like Beyoncé’s, it has even less chance of being reported on appropriately. After all, a story about Beyonce practically exudes “buying mood”. Everyone wants to have her clothes, her makeup, her music, and now her nursery. Celebrities promote consumerism. How could a dead black man possibly compete with that?
Faculty mentor: Dr. John Collins (St. Lawrence University, Professor of Global Studies)