Here's a chicken-and-egg question: are vapid Americans, fueled by deep interest in the exploits of celebrities instead of the affairs of the world, demanding shallow news coverage, or is the mainstream media hell-bent on perceiving us that way?
This week's Newsweek International covers, from the magazine's own website, suggest the sorry state affairs in the media. "The slow drift toward lighter fare at TIME and Newsweek showed no signs of abating," writes the Project for Excellence in Journalism in its "The State of the News Media 2006." From 1980 to 2004, Newsweek's content dedicated to entertainment rose from 5 to nearly 10 percent. In 2005, TIME and Newsweek spent an inordinate amount of its space to cover celebrities, compared to USNews: 14.2% for TIME, 10.4% for Newsweek. (See TIME's cover archives here.)
One interesting graph from PEJ's study: since 9/11/2001, circulation of The Nation has gone through the roof. From 100,000 issues to over 160,000. Maybe the alternatives to celebrity-obsessed media are looking more and more attractive.