- For the Pitchshifter album, see Infotainment?
Infotainment is "information-based media content or programming that also includes entertainment content in an effort to enhance popularity with audiences and consumers."  It is a neologistic portmanteau of information and entertainment, referring to a type of media which provides a combination of information and entertainment. According to many dictionaries  infotainment is always television, and the term is "mainly disapproving." However, many self-described infotainment websites exist, which provide a variety of functions and services.
The label "infotainment" is emblematic of concern and criticism that journalism is devolving from a medium which conveys serious information about issues that affect the public interest, into a form of entertainment which happens to have fresh "facts" in the mix. The criteria by which reporters and editors judge news value - whether something is worth putting on the front page, the bottom of the hour, or is worth commenting on at all - are integral parts of this debate. Some blame the media for this perceived phenomenon, for failing to live up to ideals of civic journalistic responsibility. Others blame the commercial nature of many media organizations, the need for higher ratings, combined with a preference among the public for feel-good content and "unimportant" topics (like celebrity gossip or sports). In her critique of infotainment News Flash, Bonnie Anderson cited the CNN lead story of February 2, 2004. It was the accidental exposure of Janet Jackson's breast on national TV. The follow up story was about a ricin chemical attack on the U.S. Senate majority leader.
A specialization process has also occurred, beginning with the rise of mass market special-interest magazines, moving into broadcast with the advent of cable television, and continuing into new media, like the Internet and satellite radio. An increasing number of media outlets are available to the public that focus exclusively on one topic such as current events, home improvement, history, movies, women and Christianity. This means that consumers have more choice over whether they receive a general feed of the most "important" information of the day, or whether they get a highly customized presentation that contains only one type of content, which need not be newsworthy, and which need not come from a neutral point of view. Some publications and channels have found a sizable audience in the "niche" of featuring hard news. But controversy continues over whether the size of that audience is too small, and whether those outlets are diluting content with too much "soft" news. Adding to the distinction between journalists and anchors and reporters are "human interest", personality, or celebrity news stories, which typically are directed by marketing departments based on a demographic appeal and audience share. It's commonly accepted that anchors are also media personalities, who may even be considered celebrities. The very nature of corporate network news requires its media personalities to use their public appeal to promote the networks investments, just as network broadcasts themselves (morning shows, TV news magazines) schedule self-promotional stories, in addition to advertising. Critics might go so far as to view anchors as a weak link, representing the misplacement of both the credit and the accountability of a news journalism organizationâ€”hence adding to a perceived erosion of journalistic standards throughout the news business. (See yellow journalism.)
Most infotainment, especially television programs on the networks or broadcast cable, only contain general factual information on the subjects they cover, and should not be considered as formal learning or instruction. For example you may learn that a motorcycle contains an engine, or how fast one can travel, on American Chopper, but you will not learn the inner-workings of the engine, the physics and chemistry involved when it is running, or how to customize a motorcycle on your own using schematics.
 Infotainment versus Journalism
Some define "journalism" only as reporting on "serious" subjects, where common journalistic standards are upheld by the reporter. Others believe that the larger "news business" encompasses everything from professional journalism to so-called "soft news" and "infotainment", and support activities such as marketing, advertising sales, finance and delivery. Professional journalism is supposed to place more emphasis on research, fact-checking, and the public interest than its "non-journalistic" counterparts. Because the term "news" is quite broad, the terms "hard" and "soft" denote both a difference in respective standards for news value, as well as for standards of conduct, relative to the professional ideals of journalistic integrity.
The idea of hard news embodies two orthogonal concepts:
- Seriousness: Politics, economics, crime, war, and disasters are considered serious topics, as are certain aspects of law, business, science, and technology.
- Timeliness: Stories that cover current eventsâ€”the progress of a war, the results of a vote, the breaking out of a fire, a significant statement, the freeing of a prisoner, an economic report of note.
The logical opposite, soft news is sometimes referred to in a derogatory fashion as infotainment. Defining features catching the most criticism include:
- The least serious subjects: Arts and entertainment, sports, lifestyles, "human interest", and celebrities.
- Not timely: There is no precipitating event triggering the story, other than a reporter's curiosity.
Timely events happen in less serious subjectsâ€”sporting matches, celebrity misadventures, movie releases, art exhibits, and so on.
There may also be serious reports which are not event-drivenâ€”coverage of important social, economic, legal, or technological trends; investigative reports which uncover ongoing corruption, waste, or immorality; or discussion of unsettled political issues without any special reason. Anniversaries, holidays, the end of a year or season, or the end of the first 100 days of an administration, can make some stories time-sensitive, but provide more of an opportunity for reflection and analysis than any actual "news" to report.
The spectrum of "seriousness" and "importance" is not well-defined, and different media organizations make different tradeoffs. "News you can use", a common marketing phrase highlighting a specific genre of journalism, spans the gray area. Gardening tips and hobby "news" pretty clearly fall at the entertainment end. Warnings about imminent natural disasters or acute domestic security threats (such as air raids or terrorist attacks) are considered so important that broadcast media (even non-news channels) usually interrupt other programming to announce them. A medical story about a new treatment for breast cancer, or a report about local ground water pollution might fall in between. So might book reviews, or coverage of religion. On the other hand, people frequently find hobbies and entertainment to be worthwhile parts of their lives and so "importance" on a personal level is rather subjective.
 Entertainment and news crossovers
Infotainers are entertainers in infotainment media, such as news anchors or "news personalities" who cross the line between journalism (quasi-journalism) and entertainment. Notable examples in the U.S. media are Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly, Maury Povich, Deborah Norville, and Geraldo Rivera among others.
Barbara Walters, though not the first to cross the line between news and personality stories, is for many the quintessential news-media icon. Her career dates back to the 50s, and her current prominence at ABC is largely due to celebrity interviews, with a long running co-anchorship on 20/20 with Hugh Downs and, later, John Stossel until 2004, and her overlapping morning infotainment show The View.
When Geraldo Rivera became the host of his own news-oriented talk show on CNBC, others within the NBC organization voiced their protest, including Tom Brokaw who was reported to have threatened to quit. Rivera had a notorious history as a "sleaze reporter" and daytime talk show host, where he and one or two others were representative of "Tabloid talk shows"; television seen to have little social value or redeeming intelligence, but still popular with viewers.
Fox News is sometimes classified as infotainment as it increasingly relies on loose fact checking policies, distortion of facts and celebrity personalities to present a more entertaining, although less factually accurate, version of events.
Infotainment the word was created by Joseph L. Putegnat III in January 1979. He also created his first company with the same name. The company advertised colleges and universities to high school students via VHS video tape made available with no charge to the high school's library. In this way the student could preview the college campus without having to travel. Several press releases were published in 1979 announcing the company formation.
The terms "Infotainment" and "Infotainer" were first used in September 1980 at the Joint Conference of Aslib, the Institute of Information Scientists and the Library Association in Sheffield, UK. The Infotainers were a group of British information scientists who put on comedy shows at their professional conferences between 1980 and 1990.
An earlier, and slightly variant term, "Infortainment" was coined in 1974 as the title of the 1974 convention of the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System (IBS), the association of college radio stations in the United States. It took place on April 5â€“7, 1974, at the Statler Hilton Hotel, now the Hotel Pennsylvania. It was defined as the "nexus between Information and Entertainment."
In a letter dated February 25, 1974, Russell C. Tornabene, then Vice President and General Manager of NBC Radio, wrote to Convention Chairman Robert S. Tarleton, who had coined the term, "The title of your national convention is indeed clever. May we borrow it some day to describe something we may attempt." Whether NBC's rather limited use of the term led to the 1980 event and variation is unclear; what is clear is that the second version stuck.
- ^ Demers, David, "Dictionary of Mss Communication and Media Research: a guide for students, scholars and professionals," Marquette, 2005, p.143.
- ^ Merriam- Webster, The Cambridge Online Dictionary
- ^ Cambridge Online Dictionary
- ^ "an extraordinary form of strategic internal communications" (www.infotainment.be) and historically accurate factoid collections (www.how-infotaining.com)
- ^ Anderson, Bonnie M.,"News Flash," Wiley 2004, p. 1, p. 33.
- ^ Bonnie Anderson, News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News, 2004
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