In early February, the lead story on CNN.com – "the most trusted name in news" – was about tattooed fish.
Emblazoned on the website was a large picture of a fish with some kind of design on its belly. I don't have fish but if I ever wanted any, I'd probably get that fish. It looked pretty cool.
Here's the problem, though: Surely there were more important things happening in the world. I think there is a war going on somewhere. Is Social Security fixed yet?
Don't get me wrong. I like oddball news as much as anyone. In fact, I make a decent living showcasing a daily collection of silly news, offbeat items, and real news with amusing headlines on my website, Fark.com, which attracts 3.5 million unique visitors each month. What's scary, though, is that the ratio of filler news to real news is now so high that the content of Fark and major news websites is often nearly identical. That should never happen because, in theory, mass media outlets are staffed by full-time, serious journalists who have better things to do.
So what's going on?
Part of the blame lies with the 24-hour news cycle. Sometimes there just isn't anything substantial going on. But the mass media, like nature, abhor a vacuum. Journalists have developed proven techniques to fill it.
Consider the recent announcement – almost certainly bogus – by movie director James Cameron that he discovered boxes that once contained the bones of Jesus, his alleged wife, Mary, and their alleged boy, Elroy, or whatever his name was. This news item is a combination of two common "not-news" stories slammed together.