Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Entertainment v. Infotainment…is there a difference or a problem?

The lines of entertainment and information have been blurred in contemporary television programming when it comes to the delivery of political commentary and coverage in the United States leading to a confusion as to whether or not a television show should be taken as a credible news and political discussion source such as Mad Money or a piece of entertaining theatre that is purely for laughs like The Daily Show. However, these days I don’t think that many people can tell the difference between entertainment and infotainment, but I don’t really think that is such a big problem, unless the focus or agenda of the program becomes more important than the information being presented. I will be looking at the information provided and the agenda behind two hot TV shows that offer information that is viewed as entertainment (Mad Money with Jim Cramer) and a show that offers entertainment which is viewed for information (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

Mad Money

CNBC’s Mad Money with Jim Cramer’s is a finance television show whose main focus is on investment and speculation, particularly in publicly traded securities. The general format of the show starts with two segments, where Cramer recommends one or more stocks in a group with his rationale for choosing them. At the end of each segment, Cramer will take one or two calls from viewers with questions about either the stock he recommended, or another stock in the same industry or which the viewer thinks may benefit from the topic discussed.

Now, there is nothing wrong with informing a public audience and educating them on things that could potentially bring them good fortune (of course, investment information given on Mad Money is only speculation and that is state very early on during the show). However, using such an important topic like investments and market health in a time of economic downturn is not something that should be used so much for entertainment. Ironically enough, Jon Stewart in a Daily Show segment calls out Jim Cramer about his over abuse of bringing entertainment and information together without being able to admit that Mad Money is for pure entertainment.

Daily Show

On the other side of the infotainment spectrum comes a show that is built for entertainment and is sold to its audiences as such, just not always looked at in that way.
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has become more strongly focused around politics and the national media and describes itself as a fake news program drawing its comedy from recent news stories, satirizing political figures, media organizations, and often, aspects of the show itself.
Television ratings show that the program generally has 1.45 to 1.6 million viewers’ nightly leading commentators such as Howard Dean and Ted Koppel say that The Daily Show serves as a real source of news for young people, regardless of its intentions.

Because The Daily show is a nightly entertainment program that is on-air for almost 42 weeks out of the year, it is not hard to see how it can be a reputable and up to date news source. For someone who would have had no idea what had happened during the day the show not only offers the actual information and news from the day, but it also puts its comedic spin onto the story instead of placing a framed media agenda or scare tactic into the story that is possible to come from other news sources.

This clip did its job. It informed the masses about an incident that had occurred earlier in the day. They also went on just like Jon Stewart and offered commentary about the clip itself, however, a major difference is the extension of commentary that occurs to go on and offer the pundits insight to offer the suggestion of resignation of the official responsible, and to make speculation that there were other people on board. This was not information used for news, this was a political agenda of those working on the FoxNews Network to take the credibility away from an official in the White House offices.

This is not to say that the Daily Show is an angel and has not had its biased moments, however never to have gone so far to become one as one sided as FoxNews or CNN television shows may be at times. In fact, Jon Stewarts popularity as a "Fake News Anchor" gained him a reputation good enough to become targeted in 2004 by CNN Network show "Crossfire" where he was brought on to what it seemed like was supposed to be an indictment of him being too easy on Presidential Candidate John Kerry and that he as a reporter did not do his job and was not hard enough on the Senator Kerry.

Jon Stewart is diplomatic to treat both left and right wing debaters as equals and tells them pretty straight forward that it is his job to entertain and it is there job to get the information correct.

As you can see, with such an influx of available information and such a variety of sources the creation of infotainment television has become almost the new norm for gaining information. The lines are blurred but even in such cases as the Daily Show or Mad Money, both programs, though having there own special spin on them do a fundamental job of informing the public about news and other important information. This leads me to believe that blurring the lines of Entertainment and Information...Not such a bad thing.

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