What they showed us, what we (didn’t) understand

In the British royal court there is also the Cinderella plot, and soap opera plots

It was naive to expect that if the audience he does not know the English court mourning ceremonial, will suddenly manifest
unprecedented interest

Even the most innocuous events give rise to violent conflicts. But rarely as long as for the significance of the death of Elizabeth II and the meaning of the efforts (and means) that the Bulgarian media threw for its coverage. Undoubtedly, the monarch of Great Britain is, in principle, a statesman of world magnitude. But for the majority of the native audience, the Queen of England is almost as significant as the Armenian pop.

One of the scientific approaches to news considers how newsrooms decide their arrangement according to some collective idea first – what is news at all, then – what is more important (in the general case, although not a universal criterion: what interests more people). Another approach focuses on examining the content of feeds (pages) and how journalists arrange them to achieve a certain effect. Which contradicts the rather romantic theory of the “magic window” – that news reflects reality, and therefore: ultimately reflects the interests of media owners. In both cases – the individual journalist/editor showing subjectivity or incorrect judgment, or taking into account the interests of the owner – the result risks not matching the interest of the audience.

The principle “it interests more people” is often violated. Sometimes – with a certain right (if a heating system goes bankrupt and its subscribers will be cold, de facto it only concerns their limited circle, but the particular case can serve as a starting point for generalizations about the state of individual sectors or the entire economy, and can also trigger fears, respectively – interest, among far more people). In other cases, the judgment that something is most important clearly has no basis in the assumption that it interests the most people, even more so – for an extended period.

The elections

Undoubtedly, the media’s perspective can shape the way we ordinary viewers, listeners, readers understand politics. The editorial decision that the Queen’s death was the most important news for days on end predestined the perception of everyone else as unimportant, insignificant. But the days-long rituals coincided with a specific moment in our country’s political life, characterized by a lack of significant news. In the pre-election period, politicians follow strict programs and watch out for unwanted interest, and their actions are reflected in separate blocks/pages. Otherwise, many of the broadcasts are based on the supposedly psychological approach of grouping and arranging the news according to thematic similarity (domestic, international, sports), because of the belief that this way the audience perceives them more easily. Research has shown that a single international news story that comes before or in a series of domestic ones (and vice versa) is better remembered. But the powerful effect that single strong news has, distracts attention from neighboring, if less spectacular (whether internal or external). The death of the Komai queen also became an occasion to see the informational sterility of native politics, although there are more reasons, due to the above reasons, to be seen as the most ordinary filling of air time, although it is significant enough, and also attractive enough for audience event

The positive news

Strange as it may sound, the coverage of Elizabeth II’s death and the subsequent ceremonies are positive news. Yes, death itself is not. But—first—Elizabeth was not in prime youth. Second, if it weren’t for the news, past the funeral and the queues of people waiting, the international news would have to cover short and relatively boring military conflicts – the new ones between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, the old ones – in Ukraine and in Syria, the upcoming energy crisis, or the scandals at the level of the European Commission. Yes, some of them – significant external information, but not “as a first”. And besides being insufficiently interesting for the majority, they are also negative. And the mass is looking for something non-committal, even fun. And isn’t it positive, even fun, to see how excited people wait in line 24 hours a day to pass by a coffin in which you can’t see if and what is there, which even awakens that pioneer thrill from your own visit to the mausoleum in Sofia ? Besides, the subjects really loved her.

Consumer luxury

There is nothing wrong with a little luxury, tuxedos and veils – every woman dreams of being a princess. And, as it turned out: even with the appearance of a housewife, she can become a queen if the life of the right prince with the wrong princess is arranged just right. Among the most common plots in Latin telenovelas and English-language soap operas are those of brothers who won’t talk to each other (because of women, inheritance, or both) or sisters (eterves) who will gouge out each other’s eyes (because of men, wealth, shameful past … or all three). The most ruthlessly exploited is the Cinderella cliché. And in the British royal court – both Cinderella and all the other storylines – there. Researchers argue that the enjoyment of soap operas comes from the lack of attachment to the characters (ie, we don’t care about them) and the opportunity to discuss them and their actions with other viewers. This allows us to justify our “social curiosity” as well, without feeling guilty that we are just gossiping.

The rich cry too

It’s an old cliché that primetime television is reserved for mothers with children and unemployed housewives. Wrong. Anyone who’s ever lived with kids, including unemployed stay-at-home moms, knows that if they’re around, they’re all watching some kids’ channel. And period! And the television stations know it, as soon as they program series aimed at pensioners in this zone. And, yes, it probably makes sense for them to deprive them of the Turkish soap opera with an invitation to see that “queens die too”, despite access to elite health care. But it remains a mystery why all three major TV channels showed the same thing for hours at a time, especially since their supposedly unique commentators recounted the same Wikipedia tidbits with equal pathos. The justification with competition for interest exhales. Most of all, it is not a key belt and there is no need to compete for viewers, as is the case with shows, because of commercials. Moreover, a show is planned and programmed long before the start, in order to arrange the money, and this “mourning show” was practically programmed from today – for tomorrow. On the grounds of extreme importance and extreme interest.

“Viewer television” arose in the 60s in the USA. An example is The Phil Donahue Show. He is a news anchor himself, but he began hosting a talk show in which he walks around the audience with a microphone and allows questions to be asked of a popular personality or expert in the studio, including phone viewers. At some point, he “let go of the reins” and the audience, mostly women, began to direct the conversation and dictate the topics, so the discussions revolved around domesticity, fashion and sex. The experience in Great Britain is similar. In the late 1980s, Robert Kilroy-Silk, a former MP, started a long-running morning talk show on serious political and social issues, but gradually introduced “lighter” topics to satisfy the audience. Thus, the appearance of a spirit in a medieval castle or a poltergeist – in a provincial housewife gradually replace the other. And the presenter is replaced by “more ordinary” looking ones. Producers are looking for viewers’ identification. But no longer with the audience, but with the host. In the end, there is a boom in cheap programs, mainly lifestyle. So, de – if the average viewer was the host – he would make programs about it.

The educational funeral

We miss a lot of the news because we lack key elements to understand it. According to standard theories, perception is impossible without understanding the context: knowing enough about the background and everyone involved. Editors naively assume knowledge in the audience (“If I know, so do they”), but a number of studies show that no matter how much time is devoted to a news story, if viewers do not know – they will not be interested. So the expectation that someone will know the English palace mourning ceremony and will therefore watch, or will still show unprecedented interest, is naive: the news about the queen was unnecessarily “blown out” – the Bulgarian public is not aware of the context and meaning. And counting on you yet to educate her is risky. Even more – to think that all efforts and expenses are justified by the simplest measure of voyeurism.

The author is a lecturer in Media Psychology and a long-time journalist


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