Somehow without anybody really noticing, the news changed from events that affect us – such as major wars and stock market crashes – to stuff that doesn’t affect most of us at all, like athletes slaying their wives.
Governments have figured out how to control the big bone-headed catastrophes that made news in the past. These days, you never hear about a cow kicking over a lantern causing a major metropolitan area to be engulfed in flames. Now, thanks to government regulations, all the cows use flashlights and nobody gets hurt.
Rich guys used to be able to manipulate the stock market and make huge profits at the expense of smaller investors. It was big news when the small investors discovered they’d been screwed. Now there are many safeguards against the small investor ever finding out how much he’s getting screwed. That means the financial news is limited to interviews with bald guys who try to guess why the market moved ten points today. It’s not really “news” in the sense that it has any relevance.
War isn’t as newsworthy as it used to be either. All the big countries with impressive weapons can’t figure out a good reason to point them at each other.
Social problems are reported as statistics that rise and fall for no apparent reason. The only fun part is watching politicians trying to distribute blame without accidentally using the phrase, “I sure hope you voters are as dumb as you look!”
Economic news is too abstract for the average viewer. It’s hard to be excited about news when you can’t even tell if it’s good news or bad news. The value of the yen is up? Uh-oh, now what do I do?
The occasional serial killer story is interesting, but the likelihood of the serial killer snuffing me personally is so small that it’s hard to get excited about it. Serial killing is a very bad thing, but logically, nine people killed by a serial killer isn’t as bad as ten people who are each killed by a separate killer. Serial-killer stories are the most impressive news we have, and they only sound relevant when they’re taken out of context. That’s the best evidence the news isn’t important anymore.
The other clue that all the important stories are gone is the number of news reports about other news reports. This morning I saw a news story about how a tabloid obtained photos of a crime scene. News about the news gatherers is more interesting than whatever they’re gathering news about. Could anything be less relevant than news about how someone gathered news about a story that wasn’t relevant in the first place?
I predict that news outlets will try to compensate for the loss of relevant news by focusing on stories that are more shocking and depressing than ever. At least that way they’ll get your attention and sell advertising even if the stories aren’t “news” in the traditional sense.
This will limit the reporting to a few stories per year about famous people who are killing other famous people. And if there are not enough of those stories to sell advertising slots, the media will do the only responsible thing – they will start to kill famous people themselves. Eventually, news people will get caught and got to jail, and that will be the end of traditional news outlets.
The end of traditional news outlets will not limit people’s access to information. Thanks to the ubiquity of video cameras and the Internet, every citizen will be a reporter. If something happens in your neighbourhood, you’ll tape it, stick it on the Internet with your own commentary, and make it available to the world. Sports commentary and statistics will be generated by fans who enjoy doing it for free. The weather reports will be computer-generated and constantly available by computer, pager, voicemail, and dozens of other sources. All news gathering will be disaggregated.
People will have access to software that constantly combs the Internet for “small” news that is relevant to the. The software will learn to filter out reports from Induhviduals who constantly post incorrect information. You will still get misleading reports quite often, but that’s no different from today.
Excerpt from The Dilbert Future by Scott Adams
Amazingly enough, originally published in 1997.