Junk Food News


Junk food news is a sardonic term for news stories that deliver ‘sensationalized, personalized, and homogenized inconsequential trivia,’ especially when such stories appear at the expense of serious investigative journalism.

It implies a criticism of the mass media for disseminating news that, while not very nourishing, is ‘cheap to produce and profitable for media proprietors.’

The term ‘junk food news’ was first used in print by Carl Jensen in the March 1983 edition of ‘penthouse.’ As the leader of Project Censored, he had frequently faulted the media for ignoring important stories. In response, says Jensen, editors claimed that other stories were more important, and bolstered this claim with ad hominem comments directed against him. ‘…news editors and directors…argued that the real issue isn’t censorship—but rather a difference of opinion as to what information is important to publish or broadcast. Editors often point out that there is a finite amount of time and space for news delivery—about 23 minutes for a half-hour network television evening news program—and that it’s their responsibility to determine which stories are most critical for the public to hear. The critics said I wasn’t exploring media censorship but rather I was just another frustrated academic criticizing editorial news judgment.’

To give this argument a fair hearing, Jensen decided to conduct a review to determine which stories the media had considered more important. But instead of hard-hitting investigative journalism, what he discovered was the phenomenon that he termed Junk Food News—journalistic trivia served up to the public in a number of predictable categories: brand name news (celebrity gossip); sex news (exposés and titillation); yo-yo news (statistics that change daily, such as stock market numbers and box office totals); show business news (movie openings); latest craze news (brief fads); anniversary news (anniversaries of major events or celebrity deaths); Sports news (sports rumors); and political news (bi-annual coverage of congressional campaign promises).


One Comment to “Junk Food News”

  1. And it became worse with the advent and evolution of the 24hr “news” networks. It does appear people are beginning to take note of this regression from investigative journalism or perhaps those who see the problem are becoming more vocal…not sure. Perhaps it’s just my perspective. Either way this view may well spread to others.

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