Spoonful of sugar



Raquel Ronzone

While a fictional English nanny made it more palatable with spoonfuls of sugar, a U.S. dentist dulled its effect altogether with doses of nitrous oxide – and we, the deliverers and consumers of news media, have taken these approaches to reality dangerously out of context.

As a result, we suffer the self-imposed aftermath: endless supplies of inconsequential headlines relayed daily to us, a public numb to what is actually newsworthy.

The collective satisfaction with this bastard child of journalism is no suppressed feeling. Easily digested stories about lifestyle issues, fashion trends, celebrity culture and sexual activity, in particular, dominate meaningful investigative reports, and segments on business, politics and social justice concerns.

Overall, printed versions of many reading materials are declining. Some claim that the speed, efficiency and universality of other media like TV, radio and the Internet underlie the fading popularity of newspapers and newsmagazines; although that assertion is feasible, the overwhelming fact is that sales of tabloid and lifestyle magazines are increasing, a sharp contrast to the flagging circulation of real news publications.

Soft journalism has certainly taken precedence over and infiltrated formerly groundbreaking news publications and broadcasts alike.

Those in the communication industry maintain that the content of their articles in print and online reflects the passions and priorities of their readers. What entices an audience, then, is much more telling than what keeps papers unsold and Web sites unvisited.

Newsweek, boasting 75 years in the industry and a current worldwide circulation of more than four million, unintentionally brought infotainment, the hybrid of soft journalism entertainment and hard journalism information, to the forefront with a February 2007 cover story. The issue focused on the “Girls Gone Wild effect,” the way in which the misbehaviors of some female celebrities influence young women.

Disgracing the cover with a blissful look of ignorance was Paris Hilton, her arm wrapped around a glazed Britney Spears.

Readers and bloggers clamored over the necessity of placing the pair on the front of the respected magazine. The feature article, though well-written, did not necessitate perpetuating the cover girl status of those tabloid darlings, especially in their skin-bearing, party-weary condition, on Newsweek.

The picture only furthered young people’s exposure to salacious, uninformative mentions of sexuality in the media; but not even a stalwart production like Newsweek can persuade other media, regardless of whatever niche they might claim, to move from fluff journalism and sensationalistic photography to meaningful, useful content.

Take, for instance, Cosmopolitan. Once “an antiquated general-interest magazine,” Cosmopolitan now claims alleged modernization.

Currently aimed at “sexy single chicks,” each cover boldly announces the magazine’s monthly content: new sex secrets, sex positions, sex advice from men, sex advice from women, stories about sex, sex quizzes, sexy fashion tips, sexy hairstyles and sexy beauty musts.

Despite the sheer frequency of the word sex and its variations throughout its pages, Cosmopolitan is reluctant to address the topic from a mature, informative perspective.

Other publications reflect a similar cowardice, a willingness to mention sensitive issues like sex in passing, or worse, to reduce them to titillating headlines in an effort to boost readership.

Readers of paper and electronic articles, take note. Your preferred, trusted sources of news have you in mind. Each headline of every publication mirrors your interests and caters to your concerns.

With this in mind, I remembered the criticism I received about my column in last week’s issue of The Villanovan. Writing about hymenorraphy in this college newspaper was vulgar and offensive to some; but my sole intention was to inform readers about an extremely twisted mentality toward virginity and the unfortunate practice that grew from it.

I approached the sensitive topic of sexuality with seriousness and respect, trying to give it the dignity it rightfully deserves. I still do not understand how a factual account of a serious violation of human rights was deemed distasteful and unfit for an audience regularly and strategically bombarded by sleazy, meaningless caricatures of sexuality.

The exclusive reality that complacent consumers have called for and journalists have delivered is a problem rooted in both parties.

Until readers awake from their numbness in order to pursue intellectual ventures, until journalists can demand more from readers with the guarantee of public interest in serious matters, these clever guises of reality will persist.


Raquel Ronzone is a sophomore from Philadelphia, Pa. She can be reached at [email protected].