Thursday, March 24

Wall To Wall

A few years ago, in a day when the Discovery Channel meant more than "discover how custom bikes are made" and the Learning part of the Learning Channel included more than wedding cake and window treatments, one of them ran an interesting hour on the making of a local news team. The station was just getting into the local news game, and they were going through a week's worth of live rehearsals. The show has stuck in my mind for two reasons. First, there was actual "breaking news" which occurred right before one of the practice newscasts, and the female anchor who the documentary crew was particularly following told them later that this would be news of interest to the local audience because the crash "happened just two markets over." That the concept of "market" would serve a newshairdo the same way "parsec" serves astronomers was a cosmic revelation to me.

The other was Walter Cronkite. Uncle Walter was interviewed for the exercise, and he said something to the effect that when he started out journalists were paid what beat cops and schoolteachers and butchers made. They understood the concerns of the common man because they were common men.

And they were reporters, too, one might add.

How did we get from there to an era where local teleprompter readers make six-figure salaries, live in exclusive neighborhoods, and send their children to private schools? Look, I'm no communist (okay, not anymore); I've got no problem with people making as much as they can, whether because they're on the idiot box or they've got a great court sense or singing voice or a nice set of tits. It's the concomitant commodification of the news itself that is troubling. We've gone from hiring people who read the stuff based on their "likeability" to actually reporting the news that way.

What my wife's class wanted to talk about this morning first period was Red Lake. How come Columbine was all over the news for weeks, but this gets the short shrift? Because it doesn't involve white people? Because the body count barely made double digits? Why are Terri Schiavo and Michael Jackson more important than schools?

It's a fair cop. And I can only add, "why are teenagers more aware of what our priorities should be than the people who bring us the news?"

4 comments:

KathyR said...

I wondered at first if it was because these were reservation kids or if it was because school shootings are now less entertaining than Jacko's trial and Shiavo's feeding tube. I mean, a school shooting's kind of a re-run, isn't it? What else is on?

ES said...

There isn't a big news carnival surrounding the Red Lake shootings because the right wing hasn't figured out how to use it to score political points by ginning it up.

Yosef said...

I saw over on Norbizness's site that Peggy Noonan even invoked Columbine in her new column about Shiavo, but no mention of Red Lake.

Alex said...

A few reasons for non-blanket coverage of the Red Lake story, from what I can see:
-The non-Whiteness of the story.
-The fact that it happened in a place that I, a native Minnesotan, have never heard of or been too. It is too many "markets" away from anyone.
-The lack of an "it could happen to you" angle (as in the suburban and middle-class Columbine story)
-There are too many other media circuses running concurrently right now.

Have you read any Robert McChesney? He's probably one of the best media critics around these days, and his "The Problem of the Media" articulates some of the points you're making here with an emphasis on the economic/political pressures on news right now. Gives great historical background, too.