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Infotainment the Necessary Evil

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Sebastian M

on 13 October 2012

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Transcript of Infotainment the Necessary Evil

The Need for Infotainment Which do we want to look at? Infotainment is a necessary evil. The reason is because the most profitable newspaper is the one with the most readers, and the newspaper with the most readers, is the one that can garner reader's attention most effectively. What garners attention the most? Infotainment, simplistic stories, stories that terrify us or make an emotional connection in some way. Would you rather read an article about how the government spent too much money on compiling a report about fisheries, or would you rather read about how J-Lo got rear-end implants? Moreover, which provides a better photo opportunity? But the report about how the government spent too much money is way more important to us as citizens because it’s our tax money being spent. J-Lo’s behind doesn’t have too much influence over my life. So it’s almost a necessary evil to have some infotainment in your newspaper, because without it, people will not be as inclined to go out and pick up a copy. After analyzing the Toronto Star I feel they put a good combination of both political and local news that effects the reader in real life, with soft news that brings in the cash for Torstar Corp., the Toronto Star’s parent company, so they can keep making newspapers.

That bottom photo has nothing to do with the fisheries, and you'd know that if you bothered to read the title. First, a little history of the Toronto Star. Originally, the Toronto Star was called the Evening Star -- and it’s first issue was published on November 3rd 1892. At that time, it was a four page paper that sold for 1 cent. Amazingly, at its very roots the Toronto Star has politically left leaning origins. At the time it was first published, then known as the Evening Star, the paper was started by a labour union of locked-out printers. The paper didn’t do well and was eventually bought for $32,000 by wealthy Canadian businessmen with the intention of creating a “loyal evening Liberal paper” -- or a partisan press paper. This venture was also supported by then Prime Minister Sir. Wilfrid Laurier. At the request of PM Laurier, a well known Journalist named Joseph E. Atkinson was made editor of the paper, who made significant changes to the layout and eventually changed the name from the Evening Star, to the Toronto Star. Atkinson would later buy out the shares of the Toronto Star to gain a controlling share in the paper. Over the course of many years, Atkinson made the paper very profitable and made the paper a speaker phone for many Liberal ideologies such as increases in taxing the rich, privatization of various essential utilities, workers rights and safety, minimum wage, and publicly funded healthcare3 4. The primary journalistic beats of the Toronto Star appear to be governmental/political and what would be considered “soft news” (crime that focuses on the raw sensational details -- and “human interest” stories) beats. The issue of the Toronto Star I have analyzed is from Sept. 25th. It shouldn’t be too surprising that politics is often covered in the Toronto Star, because after all, the paper’s existence has partisan beginnings. Here are some examples of political/governmental stories:

A story about the 5 cent bag tax in Toronto
The new Canadian guidelines for a baby’s nutrition
A Provincial Liberal election vow to move a power plant from Oakville to Bath, ON

Also featured on the front is a human interest story about Sam the Record Man, a formerly popular but now defunct music store. The story was carried into the focus of many other articles throughout the day’s paper. The inclusion of “soft news” so frequently in this paper probably ties into why there are also so many ads -- and that is profit maximization. The editors of this newspaper are just giving readers what they want, so the readers keep buying the paper and looking at the advertisements. Some other examples of soft news from the Sept 25th paper include:

1,300 in-humanely euthanized piglets (it doesn’t explain why the pigs were euthanized, but makes sure to include the fact that one man is having nightmares about what he saw) - Page 8
The real life Donnie Brasco’s (infamous Mafia snitch immortalized in the film of the same name) account of what the Mafia is ‘really like’ - Page 7
A fruit truck that drives around selling fruit to Torontonians - Page 14

There is about as much infotainment as there is hard news, and again I think it’s a necessary evil to have soft news to draw readers in so the Toronto Star can stay in business and make more newspapers. The Toronto Star’s layout is similar to the National Post. They both have a colourful banner adorning the headline area. They are both read in the same physical manner because they are both folded the same way. The article layouts are both somewhat clustered with lots of small writing. In terms of graphics, the National Post appears to have higher quality pictures than the Toronto Star. The fonts and template also appear more elegant in the National Post.
Completely different in layout to the Toronto Star is the Toronto Sun. The paper reads like a book and is not folded horizontally like the Toronto Star ot National Post. It contains many large photos and large lettering. The actual written content is widely spaced apart, and articles lazily take up large portions of space. The front page is always a single graphic with large letters hovering over it. It’s very easy on the eyes and not nearly as intimidating to read as the Toronto Star or the National Post.
One glaringly obvious point to make about the Toronto Star is that it is filled with ads. The front and back cover combined are made up of mostly of ads (see for yourself to the left). This is what keeps the paper in business, and although it’s not pretty to look at, its necessary.

“Judge Jails 3 for torture kidnapping” is the title of the newspaper article I read. Below it a graphic blurb states, “Victim was kicked, beaten and burned with iron for 22-hour ordeal over business misunderstanding”. The following four informational biases are a product of soft news and the newspaper attempting to make an article easier to read.

Personalization - The article focuses mostly on the kidnappers, their interactions with the victim and how they went about trying to get ransom. It states they are all fathers and that one of them is already a convicted criminal. It talks about how the mastermind was a Nigerian man who has since fled.
The article does not focus on root social problems of this event, for instance, poverty poor education or lax immigration. Instead the article focuses on the men involved in the kidnapping and their criminal background. It basically says, “These men are irresponsible criminals and foreign bogeymen, and that’s why this happened”.

Dramatization - The highlight of this article is that the victim was tortured with a hot iron. The article reads like a novel. A group of no good thugs kidnap a man, torture him then try to get money for a ransom but are outsmarted by police and the victim’s friends. They are subsequently tried and given heavy prison sentences. The reader takes away the knowledge that bad guys do bad things because they’re bad, and good prevails. The article ignores deeper social issues in lieu of a sensational violent story and paints the kidnappers as rotten criminals instead of humans who for whatever reason turned into men capable of horrific violence.

Fragmentation - In the article, it states that the victim(Okesse) was kidnapped as reprisal for delivering $5000 to a shipper and failing to retrieve a bill of lading(a receipt given for shipping large amounts of goods internationally) that Okesse claims the shipper refused to hand over. The kidnapper assumed that Okesse stole it. It never explains how the victim knew the kidnappers, only that the victim was a “part-time courier”. What kind of courier? It doesn’t say. Did they find him on Craigslist? It doesn’t say that either. It doesn’t give any details about the mastermind of the kidnapping, other than that he was from Nigeria, and has since fled back. The article doesn’t explain the connection between all the men involved aside from who were kidnappers, and who was the victim. Thus we are only provided with a brief glimpse into the real story behind what made this torture and kidnapping possible.

Authority-Disorder - The article begins and ends on the note that a Judge gave these 3 men several years in prison each. Half way through the article, one of the kidnappers is duped into picking up ransom money at a location police were watching (I guess the kidnappers don’t watch many movies). This article is the story of criminals vs. law and order, and law and order came out on top. It simplifies the story by giving the reader a routine understanding of crime in our city, rather that what factors cause the crime to materialize. The story I selected is entirely episodic. It feels like I read a short story. For all I know, it could be completely made up. It supposedly happened near Toronto, but I can’t feel any connection to that fact, because it feels more like Anywhere,ON Canada. The story comes across very simplistically as the classic tale of “bad guys” getting caught by “good guys” and then being punished. There is no depth to this article, just a summary of what happened in one instance of these men’s lives, and so I only get a glimpse of what is happening in my city, rather than a full view of what led to these events. This is the definition of soft news. News that only attempts to grab our attention and strike us emotionally, rather than deliver important facts about our society, which would probably be less interesting to us.
Again, I don’t blame the Toronto Star for including a lot of soft news in their paper. I would too, even if I really wanted to push certain social agendas. It would be hard for the Toronto Star to make a difference in society if no one read their paper. They have to fill it with some fluff, and then equal portions of hard news to balance it out.


4-http://www.vuvox.com/collage_express/collage.swf?collageID=0c4c3d6ff (linked from the Toronto Star web page) Photos:






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