Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Sad Day For TV Journalism

Today, folks, we learned that an afraid 6 year old can control the national media by hiding in an attic.

A quick note... A few weeks ago, someone asked me which reality TV star I'd like to wish ill on. I chose a certain cable news pundit. The point being: the news shouldn't be called "the news"anymore. News is boring.

But people don't tune in to see boring. And, today shows me we've reached the point where broadcasting the drama of the day - in many cases endlessly debating the drama of the day, if the issue at hand is political - is the key interest vs. informing the public.

Seriously, think about it. A prototype balloon is released accidentally from a home near Ft. Collins, Colo. Would that normally interest you? Granted, the thought of a child in the balloon, helpless up in the Rocky Mountain air... sure, that's scary. But to broadcast the entire incident live - and psyching up viewers with statements along the lines of "what's going to happen to this poor kid?" - is simply irresponsible.

There was no reporting. No asking "gee, did you check the garage? The attic?"

Instead, the news made this into an event. Much like they do with hurricanes, airplanes with faulty landing gears and other "dramas" that make for riveting television.

And that is all well and good... except that these channels claim to be giving you the news.

If today's balloon incident was a movie a la speed, you'd feel cheated to find out the kid was in the attic. You'd think "They got my heart racing for that? No one thought to search the damned house?!" Why tolerate "reporting" that does the same?

And, if anything, the heightened attention puts the pressure on first responders who, suddenly, with the glare of national spotlights and cameras following their every move, become conscious that their efforts are being scrutinized by average American couch potatoes. That doesn't help them. Imagine if the kid had been on board and died. You don't think some talking head would be trying to analyze what the first responders should have done?

Honestly, this is a disgraceful chapter in the history of broadcast news media. Dan Rather, a journalist who 99% got his facts straight, lost his job at CBS for one rushed-out-the-door story. But for the "reporters" who inflated today's balloon fiasco into "news," manipulating viewers in a way that must make James Cameron proud... they're probably getting pats on the back.

This story should have been an end-of-show "kicker" segment... a light and lively "And authorities followed a stray hot air balloon in Colorado thinking a 6-year-old child was aboard. Fortunately, he was found safe and sound in his home's attic."

Instead, the interests of ratings and money took precedence over journalism.


Bill Lysse said...

We did learn to NEVER, EVER, EVER name your child Falcon.

sarie said...

Great post. You are spot-on, it really bothers me that no one reports news - everyone just argues 24/7.