A Conversation for Why are People Interested in News?

Why not ask people?

Post 1

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

Well. Although a scholar in media psychology, I have to admit I never heard someone mention Macciavelli to explain audience behaviour. Maybe that's due to a blind spot psychologist's usually have with regard to other scientific disciplines. Macciavelli certainly wasn't a psychologist.
Quite frankly, I don't think that Macciavelli's thoughts about what motivates people's behaviour enhance our understanding of audience's behaviour today. Of course you may analyze bits of information (e.g. in tv news) as to how they relate to our physical or social well-being. But that doesn't answer the question why people watch tv news in the first place. To explain this you had to assume that they expect relevant information: We watch the news because we think there might be some information that could be useful. That sounds quite probable at first glance. But then, if you ask people why they watch the news, they frequently tell you that it's kind of a ritual. They simply don't think about underlying motivations, they just watch because that's what they've always been doing. Another aspect is that people quite often say that they enjoy watching the news, that it's kind of entertainining.
I don't deny that news are - quite often - relevant to the audience and maybe motivations like those you mentioned are an important factor. My point is this: These motivations may be relevant sometimes and - even more important - they certainly compete with others (e.g. the entertainment motiv).
Rather than looking for motivations, that may fit into the current hype of explaining just about everything with 'evolution', we should do the obvious thing: If you want to know why people do something - ask them. It's as simple as that. Why speculate about subconscious motives even before we look at what people say? That's not even 'good science' (as Popper put it), inasmuch it's not falsifiable - people quite naturally cannot tell you about their subconscious motivations. They have to say a lot about what they think why they watvch the news, a soap oprea or whatever, though. And there's lot of research about that. Lots of theories, too.


Why not ask people?

Post 2

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

I dunno. I thought this entry was very well done.

It is easy to dismiss Machiavelli as being irrelevant. He wasn't the most admirable person. And there is perhaps a desire to find him wrong, because what he theorized was so disturbing to many people. But like many others who have thought outside the box, he raised interesting questions. While I've never heard of Machiavelli as being applicable to the news either, I think it is an interesting idea. There is something a bit masochistic about news addicts, IMO.

Simply saying someone watches the news because it 'could be useful' isn't very helpful. What is it about the news that might be useful? Why do the viewers find it entertaining? Why does it become a ritual for so many people? I don't think you'd get much of a coherent answer if you went around asking people. They probably don't think about why they do it. For that reason, I found it interesting and fun to take a step back and look at the social framework the news works in.


Why not ask people?

Post 3

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

Well, I know many people who have stopped watching the news entirely. They aren't able to deal with the multiple murders, rapes, car accidents and general meyhem shown there. I'm one of them. I don't know what it's like in other areas of the world, but out where I am, all that's shown on the news is blood and sex. I for one am not interested.

But this is a good article, because it takes into account the impulses that drive a normally sane human being to be interested in the suffering of others.


Why not ask people?

Post 4

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

I honestly don't see just what interesting questions ol' Macciavelli raised. What he said was basically that some immorality's definitely required if you aspire some kind of top position in government. Big news. And anyway this didn't seem to work out for him. He died in prison as far as I remember, desperately trying to get the attention of those whose political behaviour he praised so valiantly. Poor shmock. He didn't so much construct a coherent theory of intelligence, but speculated on human bevaviour, which is something quite a lot of people did and with more empirical evidence supporting their ideas. No, really, it sure is kind of interesting to read 'Il Principe', but enlightening ...?smiley - sadface
As to what I said about asking people. Sure, people's answers more often than not raise more questions than they answered in the first place. So you have to ask them what they mean by saying this or that, make them explain. But asking them has one important advantage: It lends empirical support to speculations about their motives. I really don't like the current tendency to explain just about every behaviour by relating it to the process of evolution. It's always kind of interesting - mind you. But it's merely speculative. You cannot prove these things. Face validity is no prove. There are many things that are pretty much face valid, although they are quite simply not true, or at least not as easy as the idea suggests (the relationship between tv violence and aggressive behaviour is a perfect example).
And I really don't see why there should be a need to refer to Macciavelli when dealing with intelligence or audience behaviour. There's a lot of other guys who came up with - falsifiable - theories about intelligence and quite a lot of empirical research on audience behaviour. Of course, these guys usually don't talk about evolutionary advantages for those who watch the news. Surely there is an evolutionary advantage in knowing the relevant things, but - again - our behaviour (and thus our media related bevaviour) is certainly guided by many more variables, most of them entirely unrelated to evolution.


Why not ask people?

Post 5

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

The THOERY of Evolution: NOT PROVED.


Why not ask people?

Post 6

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

Beats me: What do you mean?


Why not ask people?

Post 7

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

I think perhaps we should agree to disagree where it comes to Machiavelli. I do, however, feel I am under fire to explain my thinking. So I will try.

In my mind, asking interesting new questions is worthwhile in and of itself, even where the answers given are highly questionable. Other examples of people who IMO ask good questions are Plato, Freud, Joseph Campbell, and on a different note Stephen Hawking.

Machiavelli's dogma is silly in many ways, and I doubt anyone but himself would have come to his conclusions. But his questions about society's mores, the way they have been formed, and methods of reacting to or changing these mass morals were very interesting. And they are applicable here, in my mind, because the news both reacts to and has the ability to change the public value system.

Your mileage, of course, may very. I can thoroughly understand your feeling that the Machiavelli reference came out of left field. I will agree with you that far too often human evolutionary principles are misused to justified culturally-driven behavior. Did primitive agrarians and hunter/gatherers care about the news? Probably not in the way we know it.


Why not ask people?

Post 8

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

Just that the theory of evolution has never been conclusively proved. It's a THEORY. So to unilaterally say that "All people are evolved from monkeys, we don't know which monkeys, but we'll blame our strange and convoluted psychology on monkeys" is malarkie. I really think that the theory of evolution was invented as an excuse for people to blame their mistakes on monkeys. smiley - winkeye


Why not ask people?

Post 9

Fragilis - h2g2 Cured My Tabular Obsession

Ahd on *that* note, I will officially bow out of this conversation. smiley - winkeye


Why not ask people?

Post 10

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

smiley - tongueout *waving* Hi, Fragilis! Bye!

Seriously, it's a "psychological fact" that many people will shift blame for any mistake (children, for example) no matter how small. In this case, it's the idea that since "humanity" is flawed. (which I think is a fallacy; humanity is not flawed, specific humans are. Ok, nobody's perfect, but there are very many good people who reflect well on everybody and many bad ones, too. This does not mean that "humanity" is flawed.) Since we are all flawed, therefore we are animals, since only God is perfect, and we are obviously not gods. So we shift the blame twice for one flaw. Once to animals and once to god.


When is evolution not evolution?

Post 11

Martin Harper

Now is not really the time to discuss the truth or otherwise of Evolutionary Theory on a big scale, so I won't. On a side note, I believe the theory is that monkeys and humans evolved from the same common ancestor. I also seem to recall that they've pinned down the species of this common ancester in the fossil record. Be that as it may.

However, the article only invokes evolution from around the time that Homo Sapiens got onto the scene (when we were hunter-gatherers). Either just after Adam and Eve got chucked out of Eden, or from just after speciation(sp?) happened.

Furthermore, it's talking mainly (even exclusively) about social evolution. That is to say, evolution of ideas and of society, rather than of DNA. I'm fairly sure that 99.9% of people in the world will agree that there was a time when we didn't have the idea of Communism(say), and we now do - This is social evolution in action, and it's about as uncontroversial as you can get.

Not every reference to "evolution" refers to the evil, Satan-inspired, plot to persuade people that we are descended from single-celled organisms...

oh, and it's "malarky", where I come from. is this another american/british thingy?


When is evolution not evolution?

Post 12

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

Well, evolution has not been proved. Niether has the creationist theory. Both could be equally valid. It's just that we do not have any proof for either. This is why I went off on a side note. Not to switch topics, but to explain my view on the article which states evolution as a foregone conclusion that everybody accepts as fact.

I realize that I didn't make this very clear in my last post. I am not the greatest at getting my ideas across to others. It made sense to me. smiley - winkeye

Now, MyRedDice, the problem with the "social evolution" is that societies don't change on their own. PEOPLE change, learn new things, and this is reflected in a society. People can, for example, spread new ideas through this lovely medium we have before us now. Due to the speed with which information can be processed over the internet, people have grown, people have learned new skills and, almost as a side note, society has changed due to the people who live in it. "Social evolution" is just another buzz word for "Human progresses."


Who's flawed?

Post 13

Martin Harper

*wanders merrily off topic*

On the contrary - humanity is flawed. The reason we have a blind spot is because our eyes are wired in with the wiring at the front of the retina. If we were perfect, then we'd have the wiring in the sensible place - out the back. It's scarcely a critical flaw, of course.

I'm not entirely sure what your saying, though. Care to explain?


When is evolution not evolution?

Post 14

Martin Harper

Oh dear - my bad - I thought you were talking about a seperate bit where the author talks about stuff evolving, but never uses the word evolution, or it's derivatives. However, my guess is that you're more likely to be talking about :- "We are programmed by evolution to look out for change in both our physical and our social environment, and to evaluate the implications of that change for the individual and the group."

Oops. In which case, I'll agree with you that there are elements of Evolutionary Theory here. But I'd like to draw your attention to the header - "The Machiavellian Intelligence Hypothesis". This isn't something being shown as fact, this is a quite clearly stated hypothesis, that may or may not be true.

Before I run away and hide, I'll point out a couple of things :-
Firstly, we do have evidence for both Biological Evolution and Creationism. The former in the fossil record, the latter in the Bible.
Secondly, "social evolution" does indeed happen at the individual level, just as biological evolution happens at the gene level. That doesn't mean it ain't evolution.
Thirdly, if you feel you want a larger target for your guns, I suggest http://www.h2g2.com/A196346, which clearly states that biological evolution was "shown", not "hypthesized".


Who's flawed?

Post 15

Lonnytunes - Winter Is Here

"since only God is perfect"

CD, which one? Surely you have spotted the power-hungry Freudien slip in the Ten Commandments.

Back on topic. May I suggest a lot of "so-called" news is actually packaged gossip. One thing most humans enjoy is the telling of, and listening to, gossip.

The early media barons appreciated this fact and got rich exploiting it. Not much has changed today.


Who's flawed?

Post 16

Cheezdanish, Slacker Princess

Ah. Looney, you're right! But WHY do we want to listen to gossip?

Because we're a bunch of nosy nellies, that's why. smiley - winkeye

Now, you'll notice that I didn't capitalize god. (If I did, it was a typo.) I don't refer to any specific god. It's generally accepted, however, in most religions, that god(dess) is perfect. While human kind is not. That's all.

Um, I really have no issue with evolutionary theory. Makes a neat kind of sense, after all. But so does creationism. I'm just saying that whenever anyone assumes that our genes are the reason that we behave in a certain way, I kinda flip. I don't like it when people make excuses for their behavior, instead of taking responsibility for their behavior (both good and bad.)

IMO, that sort of thing usually leads to the "Twinkie Defence."


Who's flawed?

Post 17

Musencus II (Muse of Dilettantism in Multiple Arts)

I have to admit that I'm not fully sure, what this conversation is about. Are we talking about evolution now and whether it happened (and is still happening) or not? Or about why people watch the news or read newspapers? Or are we discussing ol' Macciavelli's merits? Or intelligence?
Anyway, I'll answer to some points that I hopefully got right (if not, I offer humble apologies).smiley - smiley
I perfectly agree with the notion that it's no good to refer to evolution as an excuse of some kind for human behaviour, although for other reasons: It's simply because 'evolution' is a kind of joker argument. You may use it in any given case: To prove that women are less capable in achieving progress, to prove that women are in fact more capable to do whatever - you name it. The joker part stems from the fact that none of these speculations can be proven or falsified as long as you don't support them with some kind of empirical evidence. Which in this case is always very, very tricky.
Back to the discussion about the news and intelligence: Although Macciavelli surely was an interesting guy, I still don't see why we have to refer to him when there are lots of other guys who did research on the subject. And there's certainly no such thing as a Macciavellian theory of intelligence. He didn't even know the concept for one thing. What he did was, he speculated on leadership and ways to push your political career. And let's face it: Quite a lot of what he said was clearly an elaborate way of licking the rear ends of people whose attention he wanted to grab in order to push his own career (e.g. Cesare Borgia).
There's still the question why people are interested in watching the news or gathering new information. And although information has a value for our own well-being (socially and by means of survival), that value does - in my opinion - not account for every single act of news gathering. Not even a major part of these events. People do mention knowledge gain as a gratification for watching the news, but the also mention entertainment, relaxation, social gratifications (e.g. being able to talk about recent events with other people), and so on. The knowledge function of watching the news seems to be somewhat overrated.


Who's flawed?

Post 18

Lanc - GURU and ACE

Wow.

Maybe I missed the whole idea. I always thought that the last paragraph was supposed to recap and support the concept of the article. Maybe it is evolution I missed or missed me?? Regardless the first complete sentence of the last complete paragraph reads, "If Machiavelli was wielding his pen today, he might be moved to observe that journalism is perhaps the purest of professions."

I would disagree with this concept, especially today. By definition a journalist writes stories. These stories include, thoughts, concepts, reality, fiction, lies, propaganda and fables. Nowhere does a journalist "record events to make a history"

What I am getting at is that "News" emanates from facts. These facts are faithfully transmitted in written, or oral communication. These facts after they have been recalled become history simply by definition. The journalist today is someone who takes a group of facts makes up a story to go with the facts shades it with some perspective, i.e. a cause, their views, political agendas, ect. and presents it as the news. This elevates their ego to the holier than thou ability to digest it and present it again and again. Until you think as they do or you are called a minority viewpoint. As if they are the majority or even correct.

Ask yourself, have you ever had a TV interview, or a newspaper article written on your story? Have you ever witnessed an accident only not to recognize it was different than you recounted it? The story is written on what makes good press, not necessarily on the true recounting of facts. In colleges today Journalism majors take "creative writing" classes. Not historical accounting classes. Basically write a good story sell lots of advertising and use some facts to call it news. Journalists are car salesmen. Maybe not on a car lot but they provide the written vehicle to sell such items. They must write compelling, grabbing stories to keep the readers interest so they can see the washing machine advertisements on page 2. This very same thing happens in television and on radio. Today I am not sure there is a method that is not prostituted by some form of money taking. As for the purest profession, not in my book. It is just the second oldest profession, the oldest profession had to advertise somewhere.

Off my soap box...


Why not ask people?

Post 19

CRich70

I think the reason many people are interested in the news is the same as why many stop when they see an accident. We want to see what someone else got caught doing. Each of us has a persona (which in greek means Mask) that we show to the world, and though we hide ourselves not only from the rest of the world but even our own selves we all need to see proof that the other guy isn't any better than we are deep down. The biggest targets for news of that variety are of course the celebreties who are put on pedastels by many. The project an image of being somewhat better than the rest of us, usually through having a talent most of us don't have like singing or acting. Of course the drab reality is that everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time, and we feel a "thrill" if even an unconscious one when news breaks that so and so has been caught doing something he/she shouldn't be. We love the hero and hate him all at the same time. It's all part of being human. Machavelli has been meligned in the past though. He wasn't (as far as I've heard a bad man), he just tried to write a book that explained how politics worked in his day. That was his mistake. Everyone knew how the system worked and they just didn't want to admit it to themselves. More hiding behind the persona I guess. lol.


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