How does a cable news network produce twenty-four hours worth of programming – particularly when it runs out of excuses for covering Sarah Palin?
This past week, CNN found one answer: it invented a news item, racing celebrity man-boy Ashton Kutcher for one million “followers” on Twitter and covering this “event” as a major news story. Then, when Kutcher narrowly won the “Twitter duel” after a mere two days, CNN scrambled to get as much mileage out of this non-development as possible. Indeed, beyond constant references to the “feud” throughout Friday’s news programming, Kutcher was the featured guest on Larry King Live, with the softball-tosser analyzing every mundane detail of Kutcher’s “victory” as if it were a major sports championship.
CNN has tried to spin its disproportionate coverage of this “Twitter duel” as relevant to the growing importance of “new media” in breaking down barriers between celebrities and the public. Yet this obscures the real story: namely, the amazing ease with which traditional news outlets can create “news” that is useful to their marketing purposes, and then use “new media” platforms (and other networks’ gullible coverage of the pseudo-event) to spread their advertising gimmick “virally.” Indeed, with unnerving efficiency, CNN staged an event that put its brand-name front and center (i.e., “Kutcher vs. CNN”); hyped this as news-worthy on its network and website; recruited a famous dupe to ensure that its content was pumped throughout the blogosphere and reported in the MSM; and – in its most shameless act yet – broadcast “Kutcher supporters” wearing CNN-branded “Kutcher hands CNN its lunch in Twitter feud” t-shirts, which, naturally, are available for $15 apiece on CNN’s website!
In turn, CNN’s bold fabrication of the news suggests that “new media” isn’t necessarily “democratizing” the flow of information. Rather, insofar as the MSM is still responsible for determining what counts as news, “new media” platforms have provided traditional media outlets with enhanced capabilities for packaging – and broadly disseminating – their own advertising campaigns as “news.” Of course, the capitalist in me salutes the marketing folks at CNN for their ingenuity. But the (lower-case) liberal democrat in me fears a slippery slope. Today, CNN boosted its ratings by concocting a competition with Ashton Kutcher. Fine – but what will it cook up to generate sales for CNN t-shirts tomorrow?