Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Media Vultures

Media Vultures. That's what comedian Bill Maher called media outlets in reference to coverage of a recent scandal involving a sports star. The sports star collided his car with a hydrant and telephone pole, and somehow it's linked to his cheating on his wife. The sports star hasn't helped matters by not talking to police and releasing statements that only add to the mystery surrounding this accident. For its part, the police have ended their investigation and charged the sports star with reckless driving. But the media have continued to run photos of Sport Star's alleged mistresses, transcripts of racy text messages, emails and the like.

As a former media vulture, this story has caught my attention, because it has made me think back to what I was taught about newsworthiness. This story fits one of the criteria in that involves a famous person. In all others it fails. In the end, all the media scrutiny may force Sports Start go public with his affairs, with his wife at his side, and possibly lose his star power, not because of his age, not because of his performance, but because he's imperfect. It's not news, it's gossip.

Meanwhile, another recent story for which the media were criticized involved a search and rescue that ended up being a hoax. The story goes like this: A Colorado family caused a media frenzy and search and rescue operation, when it was reported that their young son had been carried away in a makeshift balloon. I would argue the news outlets had reason to cover the story in its beginning stages, because airing the story could possibly aid in finding the missing boy. Problem was, the boy never left home. Once that was learned, the media still covered the story heavily, and given the circumstances I feel in this case it was justified. As the story unfolded it became evident that "Balloon Boy's" parents were reality show wanna-bes, and they were exposed as arguably unfit parents, and criminally fraudulent, by causing multiple agencies to activate for no reason. The story opened up a societal debate on our culture's thirst for fame, and what creepy lengths some will go to get it.

So it is a fine line between what IS news, and what is just gossip. In the new world of Internet and 24-hour news, there is more pressure than ever to get the story first, if not right. And the more sensational the better. The sports star's story is about bringing down a man who until now has had a stellar reputation. But as one blogger noted, if the public wants to put him under the microscope, instead of stirring the turds of his private life, they should perhaps look at his business interests instead.

The Balloon Boy story, on the other hand, started as a legitimate news story, that ended up getting bigger.

Neither of these stories was worthy of the resources devoted to them. There are many stories more important, but I think the sports story should be left alone, and that we should continue to learn from the Balloon Boy story.

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