On the surface, the distinction between news and entertainment seems to be a clear one. In reality, it is actually a difficult one and seems to become more blurred as time goes on and as we enter a new media age. Understanding this distinction, or lack of distinction, is important for political communication, because politics has traditionally fallen into the non-entertainment side of media. Michael Carpini and Bruce Williams at the University of Pennsylvania help explore this distinction. To start, these two sides aren’t opposites; entertainment is not the opposite of news. Attempting to re-label news and entertainment as “public affairs media” and “popular media” isn’t helpful either; if anything it just muddles the distinction more, because who is to say that public affairs media isn’t “popular.” “Does the broadcasting of a presidential address shift from public affairs to popular media because it is watched by too many people (Carpini and Williams, 162)?” The distinctions and characteristics that define what is news can be found in entertainment and vice versa. Basically, to define a distinction is nearly impossible.
The new media environment that has surfaced over the past fifteen years, especially with the importance of the Internet and the availability and speed of information has made maintaining the distinction even more difficult. Journalists have become freer to roam between the divisions in a media organization, whether it is news, entertainment, or sports. Many times journalists have taken on “celebrity” identities, allowing them free rein to take on both types of media. “In turn, the distinction between fact and opinion or analysis is much less clearly identified by simple rules such as where it appears, who is saying it, or how it is labeled (Carpini and Williams, 1660.)” Audiences as well are embracing the erosion of the distinction and feel free to move between different media and genres. Another factor is economical – as news organizations are being downgraded and regulation is becoming more minimal, the line between news and entertainment is further blurred. The new media age we are all living in and embracing is breaking down the classic and distinct line between news and entertainment, a line that was a natural part of media for the past century.
Carpini and Williams use the Lewinsky scandal and Bill Clinton as an example of this new media in politics. In 1992 a rumor surfaced that a woman by the name of Gennifer Flowers had a twelve-year affair with Bill Clinton. Hillary and Bill Clinton perfected the art of using nontraditional press to address issues such as this one. While the Clintons rallied public support and diffused the issue, the mainstream press grabbed hold of this and felt that the alleged affair was legitimate enough to address, since the Clintons and other traditional news outlets were addressing the story as well. Then the Lewinsky scandal rolled around, “all notions that one could make clear-cut distinctions between serious and less serious news outlets, even between news and nonnews genres, had been effectively destroyed (Carpini and Williams, 168).” Late night talk shows, Lewinsky fan sites, respectable evening news outlets, and prime times comedies were all focusing on the scandal. Bottom line – anyone, anywhere could learn and read about the scandal without have to ever go to a traditional news source. “Any approach to political communication based upon clear-cut distinctions between fact and opinion or public affairs and entertainment is of little help in understanding the dynamic of the media coverage of the Clinton sex scandals (Carpini and Williams, 169).” In moments like these, the mainstream press has to reflect on its role and speculate on what is actually newsworthy. The blurred line between media genres showcased so well by the Clinton scandal presents a challenge for the traditional gatekeepers in the media world. While the new media age is wonderful and helpful in so many ways, there are many glitches and changing of roles that need to be addressed. The line between media genres, in particular the distinction between news and entertainment, seems to have disappeared.
Carpini, Michael, and Bruce Williams. “Let Us Infotain You: Politics in the New Media Age.” . Cambridge University Press, n.d. Web. 6 Dec 2013. .