America’s serious news media — whether print, broadcast or cable — are in the grip of a collective nervous breakdown. Embracing popular culture and its icons seems somehow therapeutic on several levels: It appears to address charges that serious media are elitist, as well as the manifest indifference of younger readers and viewers to conventional news. Then there’s the fact of simple, brute commerce; popular culture in the form of film, music and TV now provides an outsized share of the financially strapped media’s advertising revenue. Finally, there’s that source of the news media’s anxiety and confusion — and that great enabler of popular culture — the Internet…

Whatever they say, many newspaper editors and TV news producers have begun to allow website hits and social media volume to function as a kind of sub rosa ratings system whose numbers dictate coverage and the play of news stories. What’s wrong with that? For one thing, it leads to the sort of irrational excess we’ve all been through since Thursday. No reasonable editor or producer should ignore the kind of public interest we’re seeing. But surrendering utterly to it ultimately undercuts what’s genuinely valuable about serious news media.