Since Election Day, November 9, 2016, coverage of Donald Trump has taken the front page, top story, or entire focus of many news and opinion outlets around the country, and even some parts of the world. From well-established news organizations, to independent bloggers, there is no escaping from Trump-mania.
With a president this controversial in office, information outlets can’t resist but talk about the latest tweet, administrative decision, or international mishaps with American allies. But really, who could resist?
All this coverage comes at a major price, and the cost may not yet be known. At this stage in the game, there is so much coverage of the Trump administration that it’s hard to distinguish what is news and what is entertainment; or if there’s even a difference between the two anymore. According to the American Press Institute: “The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments,” but how much information is too much information.
As news outlets dissect everything from the meaning of “covfefe” to what is being discussed behind closed doors in the Kremlin, it’s becoming harder and hard to distinguish which information is important and which isn’t. Furthermore, and more and more information is intertwined with opinion pieces and delivered as “fact,” it’s becoming harder for outlets to deliver the “cold hard facts” as unbiased news. This poses a problem.
If the job of the press is to inform the public to make their own decisions, the job of the press also includes weeding out what information is truly relevant, significant, and truly crucial for the audience to ingest and process in order to make educated decisions. Going one step beyond, the press must also account for members of the audience of varying levels of education, knowledge, and comprehension. As the lines between fact and opinion are blurred, as coverage grows, and the ratings become the grading factor, educated audiences are turning away; and news outlets aren’t the only ones feeling it.
As audiences become oversaturated with information, folks turn to other outlets to pass their time. Audiences who once sought documentary film as a source of entertainment and education begin to turn to theater and live music. More and more folks are opting to stay out of news, or anything that reminds them of the current situation. In 2004, controversial documentary filmmaker Michael Moore broke records in the documentary genre when his film, Fahrenheit 9/11, grossed over $119 million dollars domestically; with a record-setting $23.9 million on opening weekend. Conversely, his most recent film, Fahrenheit 11/9, may not reach $23 million in it’s entire run. With Trump being such a hot topic, how could a film dissecting his administration flop? The answer is simple... audiences are tired of the 24/7 running of the Trump Train. This doesn’t stop at presidential news. It seems like we’re reaching a threshold for how much news a society can really handle before it becomes counter productive.
So what does this mean? Well there’s no immediate solution to the problem. As ratings still govern, and more and more media companies compete for audience members, we may not see course correction anytime soon. One thing is for certain; everything reaches a tilting point. The real question is, how will true news outlets recover trust and regain their ability to serve their citizens properly?