Are Americans becoming increasingly superficial, almost exponentially so?
Tomorrow evening’s CNBC debate, hosted by the University of Colorado Boulder, between the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination may give us yet another view into just how much Americans’ media consumption patterns have changed over the last 5 decades since the first broadcast TV debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960, and 2015. Tomorrow’s debate will also show us how broadcasters have reacted to changing American media consumption patterns.
A quick Google search of “best lines of presidential debate” immediately yielded 11,200,000 results, with the first, interestingly, coming from the UK’s Telegraph website. Media companies have become masters at reducing a candidate’s positions down to, roughly, 5-second sound bytes. And Americans who consider themselves among the most knowledgeable of the topic of politics seem to be more inclined to rely on these 5-second sound bytes to size up politicians.
That story lengths have shortened is indisputable. There are many reasons for this, among which are the sheer overhead costs associated with maintaining an editorial staff always ready to pounce on anything a media outlet considers of public interest. The burden of these costs have caused virtually every major media outlet to decrease its salaried reporter staff, and increase freelance reporters who are willing to get paid for stories only.
Additionally, Americans simply do not want to take the time they used to take to read in depth articles. I remember the rather abject angst of the staff of the newspaper I led when we came to the inescapable conclusion that very few people were willing to read the two-page stories written by one of our award-winning journalists. Two-page stories don’t fit well on a smartphone, or even an iPad. You can’t read them while you’re on the go. They can’t interrupt a boring meeting for a few precious sanity-saving seconds.
Hence, American expectations for information are now reduced to 5-second sound bytes. These 5 sacred seconds give each person a sense of informing himself, of gaining just a little more edge and, perhaps most importantly, of feeling a little less guilty when finally casting a vote or engaging in a conversation with another person on the subject at hand.
Once tomorrow evening’s GOP debate ends, expect media companies to announce the winner, or winners, based on these individuals’ mastery of the use of 5 precious seconds of time. To watch: Ben Carson, who hasn’t shown great ability to communicate in 5 seconds, has surged in the polls between debates. Carly Fiorina has shown throughout her career a keen ability to use media to drive home quick and understandable messages. Donald Trump is certainly no stranger to using the media for his purposes. But each candidate is now fully aware that the skill of mastering the 5-second sound byte is essential to winning an election in the United States in 2016.