Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Consumerism Trumps News

It is no secret that newspapers are having a rough time, whether in their dwindling print editions or their efforts to establish a financially viable presence on the Internet.  It is thus no surprise that USA Today, designed to dominate the print world through eye candy, rather than news, has been on the skids.  According to a story by Associated Press Business Writer, Michael Liedtke, they are now positioning to reinvent themselves (with all the connotations attached to that cliché) for the Internet:

USA Today, a newspaper created nearly 30 years ago to appeal to people who grew up watching television, is revising its formula to try to counter the Internet's threat to its survival.

The nation's second-largest newspaper is expanding its coverage of advertising-friendly topics, designing content for smartphones and tablet computers and refreshing the look of its print edition, whose circulation has fallen by 20 percent over the past three years.

For readers, it means lots of travel tips, gadget reviews, sports features, financial advice and lifestyle recommendations. Top editors say investigative journalism will also be emphasized.

A new design of USA Today's front page was unveiled in late January. The rest of the newspaper will be filled with more of the colorful graphics that made USA Today stand out when Gannett Co. started it in September 1982. The print edition also now includes a few barcodes that can be scanned by a mobile device to view videos and other digital content related to certain stories.

There is no sense in wringing our hands over this.  USA Today has recognized what every successful Internet venture (with Google at the top of the pile) has drawn upon for sustenance:  The Internet is not a medium for communicating information;  it is now the primary agency for growing our national addiction to consumerism.

Those with a sense of history know that the Internet did not establish this addiction.  If we are to believe the analysis of Chris Hedges, there has been a systematic concerted effort to get us all hooked since the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a propaganda campaign to sell the participation of the United States in the First World War, not because it was good for our democratic values (which was the crux of the pitch) but because it was good for our financial sector with heavy investments in European countries like Great Britain.  Indeed, Hedges claims that this was when the word “propaganda” first entered out working vocabulary;  and it was the social science literature that informed the Wilson Administration that was later enthusiastically adopted by the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels.

Now, at last, we have an online design for a newspaper that makes it clear that news really does not figure in the equation.  All that matters is selling stuff “by any means necessary.”  (Malcolm, forgive me for appropriating that phrase in this context!)  All technology does is expand the means at our disposal, and at least USA Today is being up front about how they plan to exploit those means to further their goal of exploiting all of us!

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