Friday, June 24, 2005
BOYCOTT: Huffington suggests boycotting news that doesn't matter
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By Arianna Huffington
Posted at Salon
June 23, 2005 | I was thinking a lot over the weekend about the news and
about how the news becomes the news, and then I read Jay Rosen's brilliant
on the Downing Street memo coverage. Rosen elaborates on Josh Marshall's
assertion that "news stories have a 24-hour audition on the news stage,
and if they don't catch fire in that 24 hours, there's no second chance."
Rosen's theory is that blogs have become the news cycle's appeals court,
and that the Downing Street memo story is still alive because it won on
appeal. And thank God.
But unlike a traditional court, the Blog Circuit Court of Appeals lacks an
enforcement arm. The only way its decisions can be enforced is by constant
reiteration of the decisions.
Which brings me back to this weekend. If you were to get your news only
from television, you'd think the top issue facing our country right now
was an 18-year-old girl named Natalee Holloway who went missing in Aruba.
Every time one of these stories comes up -- like, say, the Michael Jackson
trial -- when it's finally over I think, what a relief, now we can get
back to real news. But we never do. When one of these big-league
nonstories ends, they just call up a new one from the minors ... and off
they go with another round of breathless reporting. Anything to not have
to actually report actual news.
Here are the number of news segments that mention these stories (from a
search of the main news networks' transcripts from May 1 to June 20):
-- ABC News: Downing Street memo: 0 segments; Natalee Holloway: 42 segments;
Michael Jackson: 121 segments.
-- CBS News: Downing Street memo: 0 segments; Natalee Holloway: 70 segments;
Michael Jackson: 235 segments.
-- NBC News: Downing Street memo: 6 segments; Natalee Holloway: 62 segments;
Michael Jackson: 109 segments.
-- CNN: Downing Street memo: 30 segments; Natalee Holloway: 294 segments;
Michael Jackson: 633 segments.
-- Fox News: Downing Street memo: 10 segments; Natalee Holloway: 148
segments; Michael Jackson: 286 segments.
-- MSNBC: Downing Street memo: 10 segments; Natalee Holloway: 30 segments;
Michael Jackson: 106 segments.
When defending these choices, news execs inevitably fall back on the old
"we're just giving the people what they want." But are they? Fox News
averages around two and a quarter million viewers in prime time; CNN
hovers just under a million; MSNBC pulls in a quarter million. We have 280
million people in the country. That means that tens of millions of people
actually don't want what they're being given -- and that there are huge
slices of audience a real news operation could go after.
The mainstream media regularly confuses interesting with important. What's
more, it doesn't even do the former very well, and it largely ignores the
One wonders what happens to all those enterprising young broadcast
journalists being pumped out by J-schools across the country. I speak to
them occasionally, and they all seem to be truly dedicated to reporting
the news. So what happens to them between grad school and the moment they
do their 50th windswept, beachfront update on Natalee Holloway? Surely no
one actually aspires to spend his or her life describing the pre-verdict
scene outside the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse or filling up airtime
with a feature on the party scene in Aruba. This can't be what they wanted
to do with their lives, can it?
In any case, here's my suggestion: Go cold turkey. Just say no. Every time
you see or hear the word "Aruba" or "Holloway" on the screen in the next
few weeks, turn off the TV, or change the channel. I've been trying it,
and it's not easy. (I've found the Cartoon Network is a pretty safe -- if
nerve-rattling -- escape valve.)
This is not to minimize the tragic elements of Holloway's disappearance.
Her disappearance is tragic -- but it's not news in the way the Downing
Street memo is news, or multiple deaths in Iraq are news. The deaths of
19-year-old Lance Cpl. Adam Crumpler, 26-year-old Lance Cpl. Erik Heldt
and 36-year-old Capt. John Maloney were confirmed by the Pentagon in the
past few days, but you won't hear their names repeated on Fox or CNN.
But be warned: Even if you try really hard to go cold turkey, the
Scandalous Non-News Story of the Day still has a way of seeping into your
consciousness. It's some kind of tabloid osmosis. Despite my best efforts,
and an incredibly quick remote-control technique, I still find myself
starting to offer an opinion on one of them at a dinner party before
pulling up short. "Wait a second," my brain starts to shout, "I don't even
care about this story -- why do I know so much about it!?"
Still, it's worth a try. And until the blog high court gets a better
enforcement mechanism, we, as viewers, will just have to practice jury
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