In This Article Infotainment

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Infotainment and the Audience
  • Infotainment and Democracy

Communication Infotainment
by
Mark Boukes
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0200

Introduction

Infotainment has increasingly become pervasive in the triangle of relationships between politics, citizens, and the media. While the consumption of traditional news formats has declined, the popularity and importance of entertaining news genres have rapidly grown. Several types of media formats fall under the umbrella term of infotainment; for example and most prominently, Soft News, Political Satire, Political Fiction, and Entertainment Talk Shows. What these genres have in common is that they simultaneously provide entertainment and political information; yet, the balance between the two may differ substantially. Since infotainment is a multifaceted concept, numerous articles and books have been published about the conceptualization of infotainment (sometimes also coined “soft news”), and the question frequently pops up whether infotainment is a threat or blessing for democracy. Individual studies and scholars strongly differ on the answer; it very much depends on the infotainment genre that one focuses on—or whether infotainment is investigated in terms of its content features, media effects, or audience characteristics. Also the methodological approach may play a role: the topic of infotainment has increasingly gained academic attention of scholars employing both quantitative and qualitative research methods. The text proceeds with, first, (a) an overview of texts that help conceptualizing (trends in) infotainment, (b) getting to know its audience, and (c) learning about the consequences that infotainment may have for democracy. Thereafter, it continues with an overview of the literature on four of the most prominent infotainment genres: soft news, political satire, talk shows, and political fiction. Because the literature on the topic of infotainment is very much divided into studies that investigate the content of infotainment programs and studies that investigate the effects of such outlets, separate sections are devoted to this for every infotainment genre. The study of infotainment—just as perhaps almost any topic within communication science—is dominated by work from the United States, which is also reflected in the balance of studies that are included in this article.

Core Texts

Infotainment can be understood in several ways: traditional news that turned entertaining, or entertainment that incorporates political information. With the wide variety of conceptualizations of infotainment, several books and articles provide the field with the necessary knowledge to understand the concept of infotainment and how it has developed over time. Baym 2010, Williams and Delli Carpini 2011, Thussu 2007, and Blumler and Kavanagh 1999 introduce the origin of infotainment and explain how it has increased in prominence and across contexts. Farnsworth and Lichter 2003 also analyzes trends over time but for a shorter period (i.e., 1998–2000), although in more detail. Other texts help the understanding of what is at the core of infotainment. Brants and Neijens 1998 provides one of the earliest empirical investigations to the elements that define soft news, whereas Holbert 2005 classifies different media genres in a typology of infotainment programs. Reinemann, et al. 2012 and Otto, et al. 2016 review the literature on this topic, and each provides its own definition or framework for the concepts belonging to infotainment.

  • Baym, G. 2010. From Cronkite to Colbert: The evolution of broadcast news. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

    E-mail Citation »

    Describing developments in political communication from the network age with Walter Cronkite to the current “fake news” genre with satirists who are perceived as trustworthy journalists, this book demonstrates how the consumption and production of news have changed over the years. Baym goes into detail about “media convergence,” showing how different genres have come together and what this means for the coverage of “reality.”

  • Blumler, J. G., and D. Kavanagh. 1999. The third age of political communication: Influences and features. Political Communication 16.3: 209–230.

    DOI: 10.1080/105846099198596E-mail Citation »

    Not really focused on the phenomenon of infotainment per se, but this article very clearly sets out the events and trends that have occurred since the 1960s that have led to the emergence of infotainment. Changes within the media environment (e.g., increasing number of outlets) as well as on the political level (e.g., increased professionalization) explain why televised political coverage has increasingly become entertaining.

  • Brants, K., and P. Neijens. 1998. The infotainment of politics. Political Communication 15.2: 149–164.

    DOI: 10.1080/10584609809342363E-mail Citation »

    Often the claim is made that “a shift from programs in the public interest to programs the public is interested in” has occurred. This article demonstrates how one can empirically examine the presence of different infotainment “ingredients” in television programs (entertainment or journalistic). It shows that all programs contain certain entertainment elements, but some relatively more than others.

  • Farnsworth, S. J., and S. R. Lichter. 2003. The nightly news nightmare: Network television’s coverage of U.S. presidential elections, 1988–2000. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book discusses the development in media coverage of presidential elections and how news on this topic has softened (or not) over the years. Though mostly focused on traditional news outlets, it also pays attention to alternative sources of news in chapter 5, including entertainment talk shows and political satire.

  • Holbert, R. L. 2005. A typology for the study of entertainment television and politics. American Behavioral Scientist 49.3: 436–453.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002764205279419E-mail Citation »

    Infotainment can be divided into many subgenres. Lance Holbert, one of the prominent scholars in this field, creates a typology that classifies the different genres. He demonstrates how nine infotainment genres (from entertainment talk shows to reality TV to satirical situation comedies) can be classified on two axes: (1) providing explicit or implicit political messages and (2) whether audience members expect a program to be primarily political or whether politics serves only a secondary role.

  • Otto, L., I. Glogger, and M. Boukes. 2016. The softening of journalistic political communication: A critical review of sensationalism, soft news, infotainment, and tabloidization. Communication Theory 27.2: 136–155.

    DOI: 10.1111/comt.12102E-mail Citation »

    Scholars often use concepts such as sensationalism, tabloidization, infotainment, or soft news interchangeably—all indicate that news coverage in one way or the other becomes more entertaining. Dealing with the lack of clarity between the concepts, the article provides a framework describing how these concepts can be observed on different levels of news production: within an item, the item itself, within genres, or even between different media types.

  • Reinemann, C., J. Stanyer, S. Scherr, and G. Legnante. 2012. Hard and soft news: A review of concepts, operationalizations and key findings. Journalism 13.2: 221–239.

    DOI: 10.1177/1464884911427803E-mail Citation »

    The literature on infotainment follows a multitude of definitions and operationalizations. Reinemann and colleagues provide a systematic analysis of the literature on soft news and identify three dimensions on which news can possibly be softened: (1) topic, (2) focus or frame, and (3) style. Although created for soft news specifically, this definition for the conceptualization of infotainment can easily be applied more generally to the topic of infotainment.

  • Thussu, D. K. 2007. News as entertainment: The rise of global infotainment. London: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book describes the (economic) processes behind the globalization of market-driven news formats. Very international in its scope, it shows how media conglomerates drive the production of infotainment elements in news coverage across countries.

  • Williams, B. A., and M. X. Delli Carpini. 2011. After broadcast news: Media regimes, democracy, and the new information environment. Communication, Society, and Politics. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511846366E-mail Citation »

    To understand the formats and relevance of infotainment, it is crucial to understand the history behind this phenomenon. This book sketches how the media environment has developed over the years due to the impact of economic, political, cultural, and technological changes. This all led to an end of the broadcast news’ dominance, which is now continually being challenged by alternative formats and aversion on the side of the audience.

  • Young, D. G., and J. Gray. 2013. Breaking boundaries: Working across the methodological and epistemological divide in the study of political entertainment. In Special section: Breaking boundaries. By Dannagal G. Young and Jonathan Gray. International Journal of Communication 7:552–555.

    E-mail Citation »

    This short article provides an introduction to a special section that deals with the issue of infotainment. Several of the articles within this issue are highly relevant for scholars of this field. In particular, contributions by Delli Carpini (“Can We Bridge the Quantitative versus Qualitative Divide through the Study of Entertainment and Politics?”) and Jeffrey P. Jones (“Toward a New Vocabulary for Political Communication Research”) help in understanding the conceptualization of as well as the scholarship on infotainment.

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