Snarky Behavior

The "Pirannah Swarm" and the Media Cycle

July 28, 2007 · 1 Comment

Yet another product of our ever changing media landscape is what I like to call the “Pirannah Swarm.”

The Pirannah Swarm is the media’s tendency to swarm a juicy story as soon as it breaks, analyzing the story to death in a matter of days (or hours). Lacking fresh meat, the swarm will then proceed to cannibalize itself, attacking its own members for their vapid over-consumption of banal stories that amount to dry filler.

The cause of the Pirannah Swarm is easily divined: newsertainment demands “breaking” stories. To grab eyeballs, news must be new. In a long tail consumer environment like cable television, network and cable news outlets cannot risk dwelling on stories for too long lest they risk tedium and lost viewers.

The risk of the Pirannah Swarm is that the production of news now falls into a framework such that SOMETHING must be the daily “lead-story,” even if the nature of the news doesn’t warrant the attention. When CNN calls everything “breaking news” or a “crisis situtation,” it collectively desensitizes its audience from recognizing true breaking news or real crisis situations. A classic “boy who cried wolf” paradigm.

Without a proper scale of news evaluation, all events become muddled. Politicians engage in historionic theatrics… and get away with it… because we have been dulled to consider rational conversation. We become suspicious of all moral indignation- even legitimate moral indignation– as political theater. And we pass on “breaking stories” until they’ve survived the gauntlet for more than a few days in the public’s consciousness.

Newsertainment weakens our democracy. It allows for creep of authoritarianism because the free press passively allows itself to be wagged or distracted by those in power. When editors and producers are making decisions to run or bury stories based upon their popular appeal instead of their political importance, we all suffer.

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