I love a good statistic.
Not one of those “I’m-trying-to-prove-a-point-so-I’ll-pull-something-out-my-backside-that’s-almost-pertinent” statistics. I mean the ones that either truly tell a story, cause me to think about things in a different way or, quite simply, make me laugh.
For instance, I saw one making its way around the Internet the other day that gave me a little chuckle. It read, “More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died from Ebola.”
Obviously, I’m not belittling the tragic deaths of those around the world who have died from this wretched disease — nor, I’m assuming, was the individual who created it. The statistic was obviously built as a satirical look at how we, as Americans, tend to become obsessed with whatever the current 24-hour news cycle is pushing down our throats at any given time.
They fill hours upon hours of air time with information they believe can cause you to sit on your couch for hours upon hours at a time to digest and, ultimately, form an opinion. When there is nothing new of substance to report on whatever subject is filling their airways, which is about 99 percent of the time, they bring in “experts” to hypothesize and make educated guesses.
Think of the D.C. snipers, 9/11, Casey Anthony, Ferguson, the missing Malaysian plane, multiple wars in the Middle East, Aaron Hernandez, the Boston bomb suspects, Ray Rice, Trayvon Martin, gas prices, Katrina, Sandy Hook, Chris Dorner, acid-dropping leprechauns wielding golden ladles of oatmeal as they chase children through the streets and...
But I digress.
All of those topics and people I brought up were big stories, and the public had a desire to learn more about them. That’s an important void for newspeople to fill. However, they were also over-analyzed at the 24-hour news stations, and viewers had a difficult time differentiating between what was fact and what was the opinion of someone brought on to both fill minutes of air time and pontificate on “what-ifs.”
Well, maybe not the acid-dropping leprechauns, now that I think about it. Let’s take that one off the board for the purposes of this discussion.
People in the media often bemoan the image we have cultivated from the public as being biased or sensationalistic, but then some corners of the industry do indeed show bias, and do sensationalize. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Are we victims of the casual viewer, reader, blogger or listener being unable to differentiate between what is news and what is opinion? Are we just not doing a good enough job at what we do collectively?
Yeah, probably all of that.
But I’m a bit limited in space here to chase all these topics around in one week, so let’s go back to where we started before my cluttered mind rambled off on yet another rudderless discourse — oversaturation and sensationalism.
Consumers of news complain often about how the people who deliver them their information spend so much time on one subject, at the expense of everything else that is happening around the world. And that’s true. Sports fans who might not follow the news on a regular basis and may not appreciate what I’m saying right now, I’m not excluding you from this conversation at all. Just think back about how ESPN browbeat us with Brett Favre or Tim Tebow information around the clock and how annoyed you might have become from it. Same concept here.
Well, here’s a little secret. These big news agencies aren’t stupid. They track how many eyes are on their stories at any given time and they often plan their programming around that information. If people are actually watching 22 hours a day of missing plane coverage, commenting on Internet postings or clicking on links, they know that and they are going to keep giving you more until those numbers drop. They might bore you to tears sometime by providing “new” information that isn’t “new” at all, or spelling a name wrong from time to time in their haste to get something out, but they do it for a reason.
You watch. We all do.
I was following coverage Tuesday night of the death of longtime Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, a man I have admired since I was a young boy, and the steady hand that guided Woodward and Bernstein during their landmark coverage of the Watergate controversy. He oversaw 17 Pulitzer Prize-winning efforts during his tenure at the Post, and brought together investigative reporting, beat coverage and human-interest features to both keep his readership informed and to expose the highs and lows of basic humanity through storytelling. I’m quite certain you can see traces of that philosophy here at the Coastal Point on a smaller scale, as I have no doubt been influenced by his contributions over the years.
In layman’s terms, that means I’ve stolen a lot of his ideas in helping shape the parameters of our own editorial coverage. Hey, I never claimed to be smart, folks. I just steal what works, and hire people far more intelligent than myself.
Regardless, I kept clicking on more stories about Bradlee, and searching for more personal recollections from those who worked with the man. If an oversaturation of Ben Bradlee stories start showing up, know I’m one of the ones to blame.
But at least I’m not the one to single out for the leprechaun stories. Fine, I might be to blame for that, too.