‘Portlandia’ shows us the dystopian future of journalism

This satirical clip from TV’s Portlandia is simultaneously depressing and brilliant.

In my reporting class at the Washington Journalism Center, we’ve been talking about what happens when people can self-select news based on their own interests. Instead of skimming a newspaper page with a variety of stories laid out together, it’s easier than ever for people to click on sensationalized “infotainment” stories without substance. And when news organizations are hungry for clicks, it seems like a content strategy that’s almost impossible to resist.

There are all sorts of ethical questions wrapped up in this Portlandia clip, but in addition to those, I’d like to agree with authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel that “Charlize Theron”-type blog posts are simply not a sustainable business strategy for journalism.

“The evidence suggests that attracting audiences by being merely engaging will fail as a business strategy for journalism over the long term, for three simple but indisputable reasons.

The first is that, if you feed people only trivia and entertainment, you will wither the appetite of some people for anything else….

The second long-term problem with the strategy of infotainment is that it destroys the news organization’s authority to deliver more serious news and drives away those audiences who want it…

How can the news ever compete with entertainment on entertainment’s terms? Why would it want to?”

– Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, “The Elements of Journalism”

Long live long-form articles and investigative reporting.

Related in humor: The Daily Show investigates: What ever happened to investigative journalism? (Warning: includes some profanity.)

Update: After publishing this post, I realized I’d inadvertently adapted my headline from a post by NewsCastic, which I had skimmed: “Did Portlandia show us the future of journalism?”


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