One of my sisters is a journalism major, and when discussing television news, she often laughs and says, “Oh, if it bleeds, it leads!”
Television is such a visual medium that, by its very nature, can’t objectively report news. As a journalism major, who has dabbled in the field but seldom actually made a living in it, my sister once told me that she records the evening local news, two hours per day, each week, and reviews it in an hour or two on Saturday morning. She’s right, of course, the stories and film clips are recycled so often that there are only enough actual new items to fill a two-hour per week broadcast. My sister’s method makes for much more balanced coverage of the “news” since she is not bombarded by the same stories over and over. Just like viewing a commercial for a candy bar three times an hour can lead to a trip to the store for chocolate, seeing the same news clip once an hour for three days can make a natural disaster into Armageddon.
Worse, there are many news stories which ought to lead, but recently, the most visual (and loud, of course) stories were the “lead” items.
Charlie Sheen, with broken teeth and loud expressions of ego-centric rage, was the lead story for a few days. Important? Too those with only a few portions of gray matter still functioning, perhaps.
The New York City bus crash? A human tragedy, to be sure, but it was leading because it was bleeding. No doubt the driver was tired and dozed off. It probably happens every day, somewhere, but because there were many folks on the bus, it was visually stunning, so it became a lead story.
Japan’s earthquake aftermath should be a “lead” story. But, the constant emphasis on the “nuclear” disaster is a bit misleading, if you’ll pardon the pun. There is not going to be a Chernobyl situation in Japan, because the nuclear reactors there were built to withstand most problems, and the containment devices are working fairly well, given the trying circumstances of the earthquake and tsunami. If Japan had used coal or oil to generate electricity, there would have been problems with that as well. The microscope of television news is making the problem(s) associated with radiation appear much, much worse than they actually are. Right now, the Japanese need clean water, food, and shelter; and hopefully, Americans will do what they usually do, and provide aid to a nation in need.
There is much good going on in the world, but it doesn’t bleed, therefore it does not lead. For example, legislatures across this country are attempting to deal with illegal immigration by enacting laws which attempt to verify citizenship (and therefore harass non-citizens) and those actions are misguided. Most of us “Americans” came from somewhere else and became Americans. On my way to work, I pass by a church which has a huge sign out front, touting “Free Classes in English and Citizenship.” That church, with its parking lot filled with cars of those who want to become citizens, is doing more to help the immigration problem by helping assimilate immigrants than all of the legislatures combined. But the efforts of these kind Christians won’t make the news, because doing good is not a lead story.