Thursday, August 27, 2015

What seems wrong with cable news

Today's events in Virginia were horrible. Their coverage by most cable news outlets--I looked in on CNN, MSNBC, HLN, Fox, and OAN today--brought into view what, to my mind, is one of the cable news industry's biggest faults: Its incessant, exploitative coverage of tragedy.*

Because the channels broadcast twenty-four hours a day, having long ended what used to be called "news cycles," even before the coming of the Internet, the beast of unfilled, advertising revenue-rich time must be fed. The more sensational and horrific the tragedy, the better, as far as the news channels are concerned.

And, it doesn't matter how little new information is surfaced or how trivial it may be, as the hours grind on, it goes on the air. If it bleeds, it not only leads, it stays there.

Even when the cable channels stick to the facts and resist the temptation to report rumors from fear of being beaten to the punch by the competition, the long and obsessive continuation of "coverage" of tragedies, amplifies them, giving them more prominence than the millions of other events--good and bad--that happen every day, more prominence than seems healthy or to the benefit of news-consumers.

Constant repetition of even "straight reporting" of a tragic event amounts to yellow journalism.

And I can't help suspecting that, in ways nobody at the cable channels intend, people with psychological issues, are encouraged to take out their resentments in violent ways when they see how a whole nation can appear to be paralyzed by one sick person's rampage.

I don't want horrible events to be swept under the rug, denied, or ignored. And I certainly want the victims of violence to be honored for the good people that their family and friends experienced them to be.

But I also don't want those who bring us news to ignore what happens in the lives of the 7-billion other human inhabitants of Planet Earth in order to boost their ratings. Or, exploit the victims of violence. Or effectively, for some people in bad places psychologically, make heroes of killers.

*OAN is a straight news operation by day, which I sometimes look in on at breakfast and lunch. The network was not sensationalizing today's events. I've never watched the network's evening programming.

No comments: