Sunday, January 15, 2006

Bad News

If I were a more normal, less morbid sort of person I would spend less of my words and your time on the subject of, well, let us refer to it as your mortality. I spend too much time at Caskets On Parade, one of the very first bookmarks I ever set. But news of this sort just fascinates me.

But then again, maybe its not just me that reads the obits. The folks who choose and edit the news I see on TV are accused of thinking "if it bleeds, it leads". They probably do. But that is also an accusation of the audiance they serve. The lurid, the sensational may sell better than a presentation of all that happened in a day, the boring town meetings, the housing starts, the humdrum to which most of us march. But the "gotta get more viewers than the other outlets" mentality into which journalism is squeezed by the markets for media induces a deadly spiral. That slow positive feedback loop culuminates in news spining down the same drains and channels as entertainment because giving those most susceptible to advertising just what they desire to watch is "working" in the view of the accountants and investors . The humdrum and the good news I long for would be dismissed by the editors retorting "that's not news". They say this because the line between whats news and what sells grows blurier by the season. O'Reilly doesn't sell because he is right, he doesn't even sell because he is wrong. He sells because he projects a moderately infectious sense of outrage. Its an act perhaps but it is well rewarded for entertaining so well.

If the local news devoted equal footage, minutes of "who" and "why" and interiews to each death in the viewing area instead of just the violent ends, gun sales would go down, gym shoe sales would go up, we would vote against any candidate who took tobacco company money and we would stop watching TV.

I can imagine that. But fanciful scenario that it is, it is still marked by the deadly embrace of audiance appetite and broadcaster balance sheet. That is why TV, with the exception of CPB stations, is not going to lift a finger to feed something a little more akin to reality into the channels and radio likewise.

Breaking that embrace is left to the self discipline of the reality-based. We who get our news or color-correct our news by reading blogs great and small are at least fighting back. We have to behave as a market segment and spell out financial consequences to editors and advertisers if we hope to ever see more realistic news. I don't have too much pride to borrow a tactic from that handful of cranky Christian crackpots who spam the FCC with "indecency" complaints.

Here is what I am going to do.
  1. Find the editors of my local stations. This is usually one of the top results of a Google search such as would yield: Results 1 - 10 of about 25,300 for "WCVB editorial contact". (0.44 seconds). Use the call sign for each station you might watch.
  2. Write them a letter asking why their news coverage included a minute or mor each for two homicides and did not mention how many died in area hospitals from AIDS, cancer or heart disease.
  3. Allthough our household participation in the economy is already on this footing, I will assure the editors and any of their local advertisers that I have quit watching the news and where feasible switched to alternative providers of whatever the sponsors were selling.

Update: NYTimes reports how a schlocky "dead guy" idea can draw 300000 hits in two weeks. The audience is a lot sicker than the media? Well, I am gonna give the media a get-well card anyway.

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