Jon Stewart weighs in on the media’s coverage of the recent shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard.
Honestly, I’m not sure what cable should be doing differently. Not covering the story at all? Perhaps. But everyone else will cover it, and everyone in the audience is still going to turn on the TV to find out the latest, so if you’re not on the air, the other guy is. And in an age when media is on financial life support, you can’t afford to ignore “the big story” even if you don’t have perfect information.
And I’m not sure I object to getting bits and pieces of information live. I find it kind of interesting, actually. We simply no longer live in an era of “evening news.” With CNN, way back when, we started getting our news every hour, and now we get it every second with the Internet. It puts pressure on the cable networks to keep covering a breaking story even if there is no “news.” Because there “might” be news.
Again, if we all know that this is going on, if we all know that we’re getting raw news as if we’re watching a Twitter stream, then why is it a problem?
Stewart gets into the Boston Marathon bombing coverage as well. That’s another issue that I don’t necessarily agree with him on. You get in front of a camera and ad lib for 12 hours, then talk to me about the quality of the spoken word. And again, it’s fine to say “well then they shouldn’t cover it at all,” but really? They’re not going to cover the Boston Marathon bombing 24/7?
What would be interesting to see would be a side-by-side comparison of NBC’s Pete William’s coverage of the bombing versus, say, CNN’s. People praised Williams a lot. But I’d be curious to see how much time Williams was on the air, how much time he needed to fill, and then what he reported versus what other networks reported. Also, what else did NBC report, what did other anchors do on the network, when Williams wasn’t on the air – did they make the same “mistakes” as CNN?
I just feel as if it’s easy to criticize the news without prescribing exactly how the coverage should have been different. And it’s not enough to say “don’t share rumors or unconfirmed info,” because then there would be no reporting on fast-breaking stories like this at all. (Should CNN have just stood a camera up at the Navy Yard and left it live for a few hours with no commentary?)
One other important point, CNN is covering this stuff because Americans want to watch it.
This reminds me of how, from time to time, when I post some thoughtful story that took me hours to write, I sometimes get very few page views on it. But then I post something frivolous, and it goes super viral. The death of Glee star Corey Monteith comes to mind. I remember that news of his death hit the same night that George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. I got home from being out late, so I wrote about both and posted them that evening. Guess which one did better? The Glee death got nearly five times as much traffic as the Zimmerman verdict. (A “pageview” basically means how many times was the story read.)
Death of Glee star Corey Monteith
Facebook likes: 332
George Zimmerman acquitted in Trayvon Martin killing
Facebook likes: 62
Keep in mind that a lot of media, this site included, have been running on financial fumes for going on five years now. The economic collapse, along with the change in the media environment, including the change in online advertising, has been a disaster for the media. Just because you see so many ads on this site every day does not mean that we are making much money – I’m still making 1/3 of what I did before the economy collapse. Imagine someone cut 2/3 of your paycheck – now you have a sense of what the media is going through.
With that in mind, it’s not a very good incentive for writing more thoughtful stories – for doing more thoughtful (or restrained) coverage – knowing that the thoughtful stories risk running you into bankruptcy.
Sometimes the fault lies not in our media, but in ourselves.