Have you ever watched a dog chase its tail?
It’s funny, and a bit sad in its futility, watching them believe there’s a payoff coming.
After 10 days in the US, I felt like I’d watched the media equivalent. Constant “breaking news banners” (this just in: nothing was breaking).
I tuned out.
We are not the US, and it’s worth noting how very lucky we are to have actual news on our TVs, radios, online and in print, stories that matter and impact citizens.
But we are not immune to clickbait.
Since the slow speed OJ chase, we’ve seen extremes dominate headlines. I recall how I started to tune out of US cable news back when Anna Nicole Smith was a three-month long headline – a distraction that delivered a new viewership.
Today, we have the equivalent, albeit playing out in shorter cycles: a “swearing” sworn in Congresswoman caught on an cell phone camera, another who dared to do the Breakfast Club dance while at University, an almost-apologizing almost-Oscar-host’s online joke history, whether or not the rat in the chowder was fake…and on and on.
Distraction from real life issues. Real checks and balances. We could blame the media, but don’t the 11 million views on a tide pod-eating teenager speak volumes about those clicking?
How do we resist and hit reset? Is it even possible? Can we stop the tail chasing, or is it too late?
In my day job, a team of us search for “hot topics” to engage listeners/readers/viewers. We strive to inform, entertain, and engage. “Good Talkers,” we call them.
It seems that in the name of the good talker, many outlets are defaulting to clicks and eyeballs, diluting and sometimes even defaulting to YouTube over local news.
This year marks 30 straight for me in media, in radio/tv/print/online. It’s consistently been a priority to engage the audience on a range of content. Sports was the easier of my experiences. Set up the game, break down the game, find the story of the game and look ahead to the next game.
In “hard news,” the recipe is: first half of the show is news, the latter half for longer form stories and the kicker; the chewing gum; the tail chaser.
Over those three decades, this range has shifted and homogenized; evolving for shorter attention spans where tide-pod eaters or bird box blindfolders steal headlines, and leave far too little time for digging and questioning buried stories of what really impacts our lives.
Last Friday, on the advice of Movie Critic extraordinaire Dana Gee (follow her on Twitter, trust me), I caught the new Christian Bale/Amy Adams project Vice. I went in knowing only what Dana had said: “go…watch….be horrified by the reality of how messed up politics has been forever.”
Horrifying sums it up.
The story of Dick Cheney’s life served up just how easily citizens are manipulated, distracted by tail chasing. At Sunday’s Golden Globes, Bale (who portrayed Cheney) thanked Satan for the part.
The reference fits.
The movie’s focus was just how easily the electorate is manipulated. It would be naive to think that isn’t happening here.
Think ICBC. (How did we get here?) Think money laundering. (How is this happening?) Think housing markets treated as though they are stocks on the Dow Jones. (Do we crash markets in the name of correction?)
We must resist the tail chase and stay tuned to the relevant realities of frustrating news stories. Dig deep. Find the journalists you trust and read/watch/listen.
Citizens are frustrated by politics at all levels. I’ve had many conversations with smart people saying “I can’t do it anymore, I’ve tuned it out”.
Our fuse is short, our attention spans shorter. We simply cannot disengage and start chasing our tails in meaningless debates, like “should Kevin Hart host the Oscars?” or “Did Kim Campbell step out of line by retweeting something with a swear in it?”
Don’t tune out. Stay on course.
Headed into a federal election we are about to be inundated by spin and talking points.
It will be dizzying. There will be extremes. It will all sound hopeless.
It’s only hopeless if you give in to the noise and turn it off.
Politicians have strategized how to manage the narrative, they are very adept at this, and they will manage us if we are not diligent. If we do not support local and national news organizations — and read the hard works of investigative journalists. We’ve lost many great journalists to retirement and pink slips — but search we must for trusted voices.
As citizens, we need the media to help unearth the real issues — not tune out with a flippant “fake news” and head to Netflix or Youtube. Be informed.
We must not give up on checks and balances. Tail chasing is only funny if you are a dog.
Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.