Infotainment (a portmanteau of information and entertainment), also called soft news, is a type of media, usually television, that provides a combination of information and entertainment. The term is usually used disapprovingly against more serious hard news. Many existing, self-described infotainment websites and social media apps provide a variety of functions and services.
The label "infotainment" is emblematic of concern and criticism that journalism is devolving from a medium which conveys serious information about issues affecting public interest, into a form of entertainment which happens to have fresh "facts" in the mix. The criteria by which reporters and editors judge news value—whether something is worth putting on the front page, the bottom of the hour, or is worth commenting on at all—are integral parts of this debate. Some blame the media for this perceived phenomenon, for failing to live up to ideals of civic journalistic responsibility, while others blame the commercial nature of many media organizations, the need for higher ratings, combined with a preference among the public for feel-good content and "unimportant" topics such as celebrity gossip or sports. In a critique of infotainment, Bonnie Anderson of News Flash cited a CNN lead story on February 2, 2004 following the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast on national television. The follow-up story was about a ricin chemical attack on then-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
A specialization process has also occurred, beginning with the rise of mass market special-interest magazines, moving into broadcast with the advent of cable television, and continuing into new media such as the Internet and satellite radio. An increasing number of media outlets are available to the public which exclusively focus on single topics such as current events, home improvement, history, movies, women and Christianity. Consumers have a broad choice whether they receive a general feed of the most "important" information of the day or a highly customized presentation of a single type of content. Highly customized content streams may not be considered newsworthy nor contain a neutral point of view. Some publications and channels have found a sizable audience in the "niche" of featuring hard news.
Controversy has continued over the size of the audience and whether outlets are diluting content with too much "soft" news. The distinction between journalists and anchors versus reporters are "human interest", personality, or celebrity news story pieces. Soft news reporters and stories are typically directed by marketing share departments based on a demographic appeal and audience share. It is commonly accepted news anchors are also media personalities which may also be considered celebrities. Media outlets commonly use on-air personalities for their public appeal to promote the network's investments similar to the regular broadcast schedule including self-promotion and advertising. Critics might go so far as to view anchors as a weak link, representing the misplacement of both the credit and the accountability of a news journalism organization—hence adding to a perceived erosion of journalistic standards throughout the news business.
Most infotainment television programs on networks and broadcast cable only contain general information on the subjects they cover and should not be considered to be formal learning or instruction. An example of a broadcast may include accusations of a celebrity or other individual committing a crime with no verifiable factual support or evidence of such claims. It can be said that many viewers and social critics disapprove of how media, particularly TV and cable, seem to hurtle from one event to another, often dwelling on trivial, celebrity-driven content As seen with the commodification celebrities and public figures/leaders, news media is more frequently commodifying and selling the stories of people's lives for pure viewer reaction and entertainment as opposed to more focus being placed on real stories with informative meaning behind them.
In October 2010 at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, American political satirist Jon Stewart made a metaphorical statement regarding the media today: "The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems . . . illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous flaming ant epidemic." This statement referred to the news media's ability to focus in on the real problems of people, and transform them into what is known as infotainment, when this information is solely provided for the public's entertainment. Today's broadcasting of informative news is often diluted with stories of scandal, although this is no concern for media and news broadcasters because if you can keep enough viewers week after week focused on whatever is that next "flaming ant epidemic" (e.g., a congressman's sexual indiscretions, conspiracy theories about the president's birth certificate and other examples related to politainment), you can boost audience ratings and sell ads at higher rates.