I have a confession to make: I read CNN.com. This is a fairly embarrassing admission, though in my defense, my main motivation for visiting their site can be summarized by this Oscar Wilde quote:
"Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community."
There's a few patterns I have noticed on CNN.com over the years, and this recent headline is one of them:
Sex stings catch theme park workersI was intrigued, not so much due to the salacious "sex sting" part, but because of their deliberate use of the generic "theme park" phrase. Was this just some fringe amusement establishment whose name would have little national recognition? If so, then use of the generic name would be logical. However, if it were a place with national name recognition, then the omission of the specific name would be curious. The article was in fact about Disney World workers being caught in a sex sting.
You'll see this sort of thing often on CNN and it is always interesting to see when they decide to use a generic name versus the specific company/brand name. They are most definitely not consistent about it. Given CNN's propensity for "click bait" and sensationalism, why would they not have opted for the much more click-worthy headline:
Sex stings catch Disney World workersCrafting the headline to get the maximum number of user clicks is clearly a deliberate choice for them as shown with this example of another of their patterns, complete with an "all-caps" teaser:
You won't believe a puppy can do did THISWith these sorts of tactics, you can see how it would raise my suspicion there there was a conscious decision to protect the Disney brand.
Another thing I like about the all-caps type headlines is it highlighting just how confused CNN is about what is and is not "news". Here's a definition attributed to Lord Northcliffe that I am fond of:
"News is what somebody, somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising."
The state of CNN and many other news organizations is pretty bad. They are a sorry mix of incompetence and corruption. This Disney sex sting headline reminded me of an even more sinister manipulation I saw a few years back.
Around 8:45 a.m. one particular day, there was a CNN headline that went something like this:
Ford Recalls 500,000 TrucksLess than a half hour later, the headline changed to a two-link headline similar to this:
Ford Offering $2,000 Rebates | RecallThe main part of that headline linked to a Ford press release about some promotion they announced, though this was disguised as a "news" article. The original recall story was relegated to a link on that single trailing word of the headline.
Why the change? My best guess is that someone at Ford called someone at CNN to "negotiate" a de-emphasis of the article. I guess they deserve some form of award for not only getting the article demoted, but turning the situation into a free advertising opportunity. Genius for Ford, shameful for CNN.
I am sure there are people at CNN whose are masters at rationalizing away the situations where they trade journalistic integrity for advertising dollars. It would not even surprise me if Ford did not have any direct intervention. The more senior editors there might be well trained on "acceptable" practices, so maybe it slipped through the cracks before it was caught and "corrected".
More generally, if one thinks that objectivity is a requirement for journalism, then it is simply not possible to have for-profit journalism. When you depend on getting revenue from corporations and depend on getting access/information from powerful people, you are beholding to their desires and become embedded with their interests.
Note that there are a few places that are trying to practice objective journalism. A good example is Pro Publica.
I have a lot more to say about the state of journalism and news organizations, but since others have said most of it more eloquently, I will just provide a few pithy quotes instead:
"I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in their time." -- H. Truman
"If you are not careful, the newspapers will have your hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing." -- Malcolm X
"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper you're misinformed." - Mark Twain