And in yesterday's Washington Post, Markus Prior basically says that goes for the 21st century media landscape as well.
As reported in this space a few weeks back, one of those studies came out that showed that Americans are – more or less – just as informed and uninformed as they were back in the 80s, despite the fact that our options have increased at a geometric rate. You would have thought that the explosion of media outlets would have led to a similar one in terms of public awareness. Not so.
(Kids, be sure to ask your parents about when you used to have to walk over to your TV and turn a dial to change channels. Then, once you've mastered that concept, ask about "UHF.")
Prior notes that cable news, Internet news sites, podcasts and alternative media have proliferated and the public's awareness has flatlined.
Now that Americans can choose among countless channels and Web sites, the role of motivation is key. Many people's reasons for watching television or surfing the Web do not include learning about politics. Today's media users seek out the content they really like. Unfortunately for a political system that benefits from an informed citizenry, few people really like the news.The problem, then, isn't that there are "have"s and "have not"s -- that that digital divide would have been addressed by the multitude of options. The problem is simpler than that, and yet at the same time immensely difficult to even begin to get one's head around: It's the "care"s versus the "care not"s. And that ratio doesn't seem to be budging. At least not nearly as much as we'd expect in the information age.
There's news with a celebrity vibe. There's news with a humorous approach – and news with a distinctly humorless mindset. There's politically newsy news. There's lefty news. And righty news. But no matter how many teaspoons of sugar we heap on the medicine of news, there is still a sizable constituency of people who don't know and don't care.
The ultimate question, then, is do we shrug off these people altogether and just worry about the people who opt-in to current events and political awareness? Do we package the news – as many media outlets now do – as a hybrid of Anna Nicoles and Miss New Jerseys and try to lure in the less interested with breadcrumbs of trivialities? Or is there another way, one that doesn't feel like you're aiming for the lowest common denominator while informing the largest crowd?