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Cable News is Now Cable Context - And Missing Plane Context Is What We Crave

Mainstream channels are only reacting to the news.

AFP PHOTO / Jean-Pierre Clatot

When a story is interesting, it's hard to convince the public they should care less.

The latest Pew Research news poll this week shows that 48 percent of respondents think there has been the "right amount" of news coverage of the missing plane. If you include those who think there should be even more coverage, that number goes up to 60 percent.

But those stats only tell part of the story. When it comes to the Russia/Crimea story, 76 percent want more or feel they're being given the right amount. Health care rollout? Seventy-seven percent want more or feel they've been properly fed coverage.

cnn

Much of the missing plane coverage criticism - like from Jon Stewart, who often sees fastballs down the plate and bunts infield singles - has centered on cable news outlets. But we need to get real about what's happening, and it goes beyond the plane.

Cable news is now cable context. The majority of content on what are considered cable news channels - CNN, Fox News, HLN and MSNBC - are not about making or even reporting news, per se. They react to news, and by and large they do it well.

News, in the more traditional sense, is sought and found on other platforms - on the internet mainly, and specifically on social media and blogs. (Now's as good a time as any to plug TheBlaze, where shows like "For The Record" and stories like this one bring news and truth to the forefront that isn't covered anywhere else.) What cable outlets have that are distinguishing characteristics are time and resources.

We, as the news-consuming audience, are interested in the plane story because it is inherently interesting. We crave the content on any and all platforms. In response, cable outlets give us context. Often that context is very helpful, and occasionally it is silly, but it is context nonetheless.

And the incessant plane coverage over the last two weeks on cable outlets, especially CNN, is far from the only story where this applies. When a major political story breaks, news consumers from the left rush to MSNBC and the right rush to Fox News to hear how the news is put into context. They want to hear the interpretations of prime time hosts whose opinions they value, from pundits who they recognize, and see interviews from influential figures about the issue. They want context to the news, and cable channels provide that.

(Image: Screengrab/MSNBC) (Image: Screengrab/MSNBC)

Most people in America consume content in small doses - they are either too busy or only mildly interested. These samplers aren't watching hours and hours of cable context. They sample and leave. Maybe they see an interesting link on Facebook and move on with the rest of their lives. You, reading this right now, are probably not one of these people.

The heavy consumers - the Tweetdeck-gazers, the media watchdogs - are feeling the context inundation, and some don't like it. But you have to be in it to win it - if those who were turned off by what they deem over-coverage actually turned it off, they would have nothing to complain about.

Instead, this endless cycle continues. News events of interest and importance occurs, it reaches critical mass (your parents and/or your kids are talking about it), cable outlets jump to provide their unique context, you consume, and you're left feeling fulfilled or satiated. Then, interest wanes and the next story arrives to capture our collective curiosity.

While Ezra Klein does his explanatory journalism and Nate Silver does his data journalism, there's an argument to be made that cable outlets provide us context journalism during complicated, ongoing, major news stories. As the media landscape micro-segments and expands, it is a service to the consumers who crave it.

[Full disclosure: I previously have worked at CNN, Fox News and NBC.]

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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