January 17, 2009

Television Ratings Miracle on the Hudson

Last Wednesday, along with other viewers, I was glued to my television set, following the "Breaking News." It was dramatic. It concerned life-or-death issues. It was of importance to all Americans. I'm referring, of course, to the hearing for Attorney General nominee Eric Holder. Oh, you thought I was talking about the "Miracle on the Hudson"? Yeah, not so much.

Once again, the television news networks are flogging a non-news story for all it's worth. Unfortunately, the so-called "Miracle on the Hudson" was a perfect storm for the television news networks: a "dramatic" rescue incident, with a human interest angle, unusual television pictures captured on videotape (Look! An airplane! In the water!"), and which took place just blocks from their studios. Since the plane went down, we have been subjected to endless coverage, including interviews with family members and numerous "aviation experts." I have no doubt that made-for-television movies and book deals are in the works, from the pilot and passengers. You have to love American capitalism.

Once again, however, someone needs to explain how this is "news" deserving such lopsided coverage, let alone national (and indeed, worldwide) "news" warranting so much coverage by nationwide television news networks such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fixed Noise. A prominent blogger and journalist I know recently defined "news" as when "someone tells me something I didn't know before." Even under that low standard, the "Miracle on the Hudson" isn't "news." We all knew before that airplanes sometimes crash. We knew that, in particular, planes sometimes hit flocks of birds and then crash or have to ditch. We knew that planes sometimes ditch in the water. We knew that, when planes ditch in the water, they can float for a while, and, if rescuers arrive soon enough, the people can be rescued.

By next Tuesday, the television news networks presumably will have moved away from the "Miracle on the Hudson" and onto the Obama inauguration. But until then, it's more airplane airtime. At least when the Runaway Bride ran away, or when Chandra Levy went missing, or when Caylee Anthony's body was found, or when O.J. Simpson was arrested for kidnapping and armed robbery, that was something I didn't already know.

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At 3:17 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

News is all about supply and demand, plain and simple. There is no measuring stick to determine whether something is really newsworthy. Instead I picture a room filled with people who can read at about a 4th grade level who give a thumbs up or thumbs down to the next breaking story. You wonder how many gems of things we don't know but might like to never make the cut and remain forever hidden.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

Traditionally, at news outlets such as the New York Times and Time Magazine, the editorial side and the business side had a strict "separation of church and state." If that wall has broken down such that news organizations are now making decisions about what is newsworthy solely on the basis of what the business people say, that explains a lot. If so, it's a sad day, and another reason why I keep drifting further away from the mainstream media for my news.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

Barbara, I left out the initial observation that there is indeed supposed to be a measuring stick to determine whether something is really newsworthy. That measuring stick is called an editor, and they are supposed to make such decisions at every news organization every day.


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