Being a former scribbler myself, whenever I come across something thoughtful – and thoughtful is the key term here – that analyzes the news business, I sit up and take notice. I came across something in my readings here at school called the Issue-Attention Cycle. First, let me list the five stages of the process:
1. A pre-problem stage that exists when an “undesirable” social condition has not been discovered by the masses or media.
2. An alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm stage that occurs when a “dramatic series of events” provokes sudden interest in an issue from people who previously ignored it.
3. A stage when realizing the cost of significant progress surrounding the issue causes people to realize exactly what it will take to correct the problem identified in the above stage. People tend to balk at the costs.
4. A gradual decline of intense public interest stage when the public begins to lose interest because of the difficulties identified in the above stage.
5. The post-problem stage when the public has largely moved onto a new concern.
In my opinion, this isn’t just some useless classroom theory, either. You can actually take the above module and apply it to how people – and more importantly, the media – respond to real-world issues. Consider the list my classmates and I came up with. It went something like this:
1. Global warming (if you believe in it)
3. Terrorism (how many people really care about it now)
4. The country’s addiction to foreign fossil fuels (if gas falls below $2 per gallon, see how many people care about alternative energy sources)
5. Speaking of the above, remember all that talk about Ethanol?
6. Remember Ethiopia? The place all the rock stars joined Michael Jackson to sing about in the 80s? People are still starving there, I hear.
All of the above demonstrate the actual application of the theory and how “American public attention rarely remains sharply focused upon any one domestic issue for very long – even if it involves a continuing problem of crucial importance to society.”
The obvious question is how does this affect politicians and politics?
Can so-called “moon-shot” issues like energy independence be tackled in the current environment of short attention-spans?
And shouldn’t you have quit reading this to check and see what’s on television by now?
Has American Idol started up again?