“Infotainment confusion syndrome.”
That’s what Jon Stewart diagnosed Brian Williams with following his mis-remembrance. “It occurs when the celebrity cortex gets its wires crossed with the ‘medulla anchor-dala,’” Stewart said.
While the comedian was clearly joking about Williams’ inability to separate his journalistic duty from his celebrity status, it’s important to think about what really happens when these wires cross.
If anything, social media has blurred the line between celebrity and journalist. Having an abundance of online followers, in a way, makes you famous- a member of the journalism glitterati. And while on a surface level having these followers simply means you reach a larger audience, it really leads to confusion. Are you a reporter or are you a celeb?
The most obvious case is Brian Williams. He became this larger-than-life figure in both the media and popular culture. He had fans. Audiences loved Williams, and rightfully so. He became much more than a public figure in media… he became a celebrity.
But very few journalists have had a fan base like this before. Sure, anchormen and network news headliners were admired. It comes with the territory- being on television automatically makes you a star whether you are reporting or acting. Some of the most Googled people are Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer… all journalists.
And aside from the occasional obsessed fan, the fame of the profession never caused any major problems in these careers.
It wasn’t until social media began shortening the divde between the public and these reporters that the celebrity cortex crossed with the medulla anchor-dala.
Because these well-known journalists became more accessible to their audience, the viewers wanted them more from them. And the reporters, eager to gain a larger audience, ever so kindly obliged.
People loved to hear how Williams was reporting from the frontline in Iraq, so he gave them a bigger and better story making love him more.
The fame goes straight to the head.
As we consume more and more of our news on social media, this will become an even bigger issue. When do journalists stop reporting the news to inform and start telling stories simply to attract more followers and attention?
It’s a very deep rabbit hole that a few journalists have already fallen down.
As the difference between journalists and celebrities becomes increasingly muddled, reporters will inevitably stop being a reliable news source and become a source of entertainment.