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Too Often News Is Defined As "What Drives Ratings" Not "What Is Newsworthy"

OK, it’s a rant … nothing more.  It’s just that the demise of journalism, particularly broadcast journalism on the national stage, breaks my heart.  I grew up loving it.  Today, there is little of that solid, respectable national broadcast journalism left.  The latest hurricane coverage is merely one more saga illustrating how blatant the money grubbing has become.

Julie Moos offered up here views on the “Was the hurricane coverage hyped?” debate that seems to be unstoppable.  See The 6 criteria for hype & why Hurricane Irene coverage does not meet them.

So, I’m offering up my take on the coverage. I feel Ms. Moos failed to address some painfully glaring realities in the “what passes for news” determinations by media outlets today.

Ms. Moos fails to adequately address the key element of proximity.  That is what made the national cable news coverage so unrealistic.  Yes, a large portion of the nation’s population were at risk.

But, what may have made the national media outlets pay so much attention may well have been — the proximity was their own backyard, the northeast.  Specifically, we’re talking about the US media mecca – New York City.

I can almost hear the newsroom conversations now (can’t you) … “Oh, my gosh … the hurricane is coming up here … and we just had a freak earthquake.  Is this Armegeddon?”  And then, can you hear the upper management conversations (the suits).  “If not, let’s make it look like it.  I smell a ratings bonanza!”

Further, Ms. Moos neglects to adequately address the consequence of the story.  Yes, the damages caused by the hurricane were large.  However, the string of tornadoes earlier this year caused an almost equal amount of monetary damage.  They also killed hundreds more people.

Were the tornadoes over covered … or hyped by cable news?  No … and why?  In part, it was because they were hyping the Royal Wedding when the most devastating string of storms occurred.  Yes, a foriegn wedding was more important than death and destruction in the US.  Why?  The cable channels had already committed their resources.  In days long gone, they would have bitten the bullet and covered the national tragedy despite their prior commitments.  You know, that little thing called journalistic integrity.  Today, money rules!

Face it.  The hurricane coverage on cable channels was over the top.  It was all about trying to hold eyeballs, increase ratings and NOT reporting news.

The hurricane and subsequent flooding was a major story. That’s true. Did it deserve wall-to-wall coverage? No. Hey, I’ve been through plenty of hurricanes. This one, to me, was more akin to another nor’easter than a hurricane. Do nor’easters usually warrant national wall-to-wall coverage? No. Do they get it? No. Please, people. We have picnics in category one hurricanes. Sheesh!

Finally, as far as context is concerned, there were (and are) other ongoing stories that impact more people, cause more damage, cost more money and concern the deaths of more people.  What are they?  The wars the US is currently still fighting.  Famine in Africa.  Drought in the US south and southwest. There are over 30 insurgencies, civil wars and outright wars between nations underway around the world today.  (See globalsecurity.org)

Even if we quibble over the number of wars, the consequences of any one of them likely exceeds the impact of that one hurricane.  That is particularly true for those news outlets that pretend to be covering the world.

Oh, but those stories are too complex to cover and maintain the attention of viewers.  Hey, we’ll commit the money for a Royal Wedding, but in-depth coverage on more important issues — what, are you kidding?  They don’t drive ratings.  So, we are stuck with the continued tabloidization of news.  Revenues and profits play too large a role in what gets defined as news today.  Revenues and hoped for profits played too large a role in going with wall-to-wall coverage of the hurricane.

After all that … at least sometimes you can find humor in weather coverage.



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