The other day, I was listening to a podcast about media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The guest praised Murdoch’s vision and said something that rang true: The media is in the business of putting commercially marketable words together.
Commercially marketable words. The news media is in the business of delivering entertaining and, perhaps, useful material that we want to buy.
If you wonder why some outlet spins news one way or another, it’s because that spin sells advertising. Why is there so much bad news, drama and conflict in the news? Because we will buy more of it and advertisers want to be associated with it. As one TV sports producer noted when a journalist asked about behavior of team owners, “The answer to all your questions is money.”
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Finally, spring has sprung. Did anyone else notice the absence in the national media of our Tri-State ice storm?
All we heard about on the news were Texans who apparently had never seen ice. Why? Because large media outlets were there. The reporters could frame alarming stories for a national audience curious as to what can intimidate Texans. It’s hard to generate as much excitement about another human tragedy in Appalachia. Want to read about flood deaths in Bangladesh? Yawn.
Similarly, nine years ago deadly tornadoes struck Kentucky. National journalists quickly flew to Louisville and drove across the Ohio River to a town in Indiana where a small tornado had touched down without a death, injury or even much damage. That way they could go back to the Galt House at night and file their stories while they ate filet mignon on expense accounts.
The best they could do was show an awning blown off a local business. The biggest interview was of a teacher who kept his small students inside when the wind hit. He never even saw it. Fortunately, the young students were safe. Unfortunately for newspersons in search of a tragedy, the young students were safe.
Meanwhile, another tornado was killing people in West Liberty, Kentucky. The manager at a local bank saw the beast coming down the street, an image of total darkness and a deafening roar. He herded all staff, customers and scared pedestrians on the street into the bank vault and locked the door before the tornado crashed down. After the noise died, they came out and saw the bank torn up; its windows and doors were blown out. The surrounding buildings in town weren’t just torn up. They were gone.
Soon, there were reports of West Liberty area deaths. Our local news media was sharp enough to report them. One, two, three. The reports kept mounting. No word on national news, though. Four, five, six. Still no word. The national reporters kept filing reports all day from their hotel until word filtered out the next day that the death and destruction they had been seeking took place on the other side of Kentucky.
So, they left the comfortable hotel and drove four hours to West Liberty, where they filed short reports that didn’t interest their employers. The news cycle had moved on from tornado stories to more commercially marketable pieces. And there was no filet mignon in West Liberty to keep reporters there.