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What's the Frequency, Gaga?

2011-03-01 16:27
When I was coming up in the Entertainment writer arena, I was taught that coverage of an industry or topic should be balanced, topical and fair. We still (mostly) strive for that principal in News, after all. But Entertainment – and in my case Music - has evolved into an altogether different animal over the years.   

Two music stories grabbed opposite sides of the Channel24 Music desk this morning, and by their simultaneous arrival demonstrate the evolved nature of "Music" as a public concept.

The first was the exclusive streaming of the newly completed R.E.M. album on Channel24. The second was the release of Lady Gaga's new music video, which generated a lot of buzz around my colleagues' sides of the table, Twitter, the solar system and possibly the Helix Nebula.

Call me a journalistic dinosaur, but I find the idea that Lady Gaga's video release should receive more "airtime" than any other "news" a bit disappointing. Of course it's the nature of what we do now, but it stings a little every time another Top Forty artist gets to pass of some expensive PR as "News".

The same thing?

You could of course argue that the R.E.M. stream is pretty much the same thing - PR, that is - but I submit a few issues in comparing the two:

One: There was no question as to which story would lead. Lady Gaga is the highest ranked money earner in the market. R.E.M. is a respected but ultimately almost irrelevant commercial property compared to the machine that is Gaga – at least, according to the bean counters.

Two: It is implied that Gaga's story is more relevant to the "Music" content reader. Whereas the statement (it's not a question) "Who cares about R.E.M.?" will automatically appear in the minds of content editors everywhere when confronted with the same choice.

Three: Gaga's been on the front page of every major publication every week for nearly two years. Do you know what Michael Stipe or Peter Buck might look like today?

False premise

But of course all of this is built atop a false premise – that people are only interested in what is new and exciting and "hot right now". The truth is that the public is pretty much told what is "hot right now", because the only thing you get to see and hear with any regularity is the Top Forty's expensive PR. It's a vicious cycle that threatens a lot more than bank balances.

I guess my point is this: In a socio-political context, it is considered critical that national history be learned, remembered, noted, analysed, dissected, reviewed, and carried forth ("balanced", "topical", "fair"). "You don't know where you're going unless you know where you come from" is a common idea associated with this. And this should enable us to proffer alternative views and ideas in the face of so much whitewash from the existing establishment.

Why then is Music reportage – and Entertainment on a broader scale – so easily curtailed as to only service what is currently sellable en masse? Gaga, Katy, Rihanna, etc... the major names of the major agencies.

Isn't it perhaps tantamount to keeping the population stupid so that it will just vote for them (and their products) over and over again?

Anton Marshall is the music editor for Channel24.

Is the Entertainment industry just making sure that you stay stupid?
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