There is an old adage that 'challenging competition makes you better'. That does not necessary apply to the news business. Most current internet users can remember the days when the news was accessed through the local newspaper or the half hour broadcast on evening television. There was time to digest the news, talk about it and sometimes act upon it.
Now, there is the competition of the continuous cable news networks and instant access of the internet. The competition is fierce. Local news outlets are not competing within the community for attention. The competition is with global networks and with instant information access online.
The subtle shift of that competition is that news outlets move away from social responsibility to sensationalism. An example is the offshoot of the CNN which gives the audience HLN. It is CNN's Headline News affiliate. On HLN, there will be entertainment shows like Nancy Grace, Joy Behar and Jane Velez Mitchell. These are examples of shows that take a single news items and sensationalize it to cover a half hour. It is not a in-depth analysis of the news. The programs are personality driven and public forms for the hosts. To present such programming as news is an affront to journalism.
Nevertheless, this is what draws an audience and generates the advertising revenue. Unfortunately, the casualties of such a media focus is the news itself. What used to be a twenty four hour event cycle is a much shorter period for a news item. And some very important news becomes lost in the rush.
An example of this news rush is the Tylenol recall. In January of 2010, the Tylenol manufacturer McNeil Healthcare LLC was asked to recall tainted product:
"... "McNeil should have acted faster," said Deborah Autor, director of the FDA's Office of Compliance, of the arm of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures Tylenol products, adding "When something smells bad, literally or figuratively, they must aggressively investigate and solve the problem."
A recall of Tylenol products has began last month with the popular Tylenol arthritis caplet expanded to include more than two dozen other over-the-counter products manufactured by McNeil."
This was a news story that had immediate importance for the public's well being. However, it does not have the immediate sensationalism of a world class athlete's sexual scandal, a movie star behaving badly, a politician being obtuse, the horrific murder-of-the day and so forth. The Tylenol story is reported but its 'shelf life' for coverage is remarkably short.
The consequence is that in July, months after the initial news was reported in the media, there are some people who still have the medication and who are tempted to use the product. The Tylenol story may be accessible through an internet search or a newspaper archive. However, if a person is not monitoring the news continuously, such items are easily missed.
There is an irony to this dilemma. With the speeding news cycle, the responsibility for spreading a factoid of importance may revert to 'word-of-mouth'. That 'word-of-mouth' may be in the form of an instant message, an email, a cell phone call, a blog or some other form of connection. How your friends and your family members may learn of such items as the Tylenol recall is by someone mentioning it.
Within a few short hours, the news cycle will move on again. The media outlets are competing and it is questionable whether we, the public, are that much better for it.