It’s no secret that television news is more focused on entertainment-oriented stories than digging into any substance. The basic tenets of journalism – including, curiosity and asking, why? – are fading into the past. There is rarely any news in TV news.
TV news – struggling in the digital era to cling to any audience – is obsessed with airing fluffy snippets geared toward attracting people who are distracted by many other things things in their lives.
With its ever-present “Breaking News” banner, CNN, for example, recycles – ad nauseam – the same rumors, unsubstantiated reports and non-news about missing flight MH-370 while only giving brief headline attention to the crisis in the Ukraine, growing tension between the US and Russia, and many other timely developments. Of course, after laying off more than 40 of its veteran reporters at the end of 2013, CNN relies more on news readers, interns and junior staff to keep the place running.
But, I digress … back to my point. TV news decides what’s news with guidance from consultants who tell them what kind of feel-good stories might catch the attention of audiences, regardless of news value. Editorial decisions in TV newsrooms are also dictated by a sense of concern over offending sponsors. We live in a world where many former TV advertisers have moved to more popular digital places, like Facebook.
Here’s merely a partial list of stories that are taboo on TV news because of political considerations, social backlash or fear of offending sponsors:
- The soaring increase in serious traffic accidents. My guess is that motorists may be acting out wild car commercials they’ve watched on TV (most such commercials are animated) but the number of roll-over accidents is skyrocketing nationwide. When it happens, entire highways are often closed. Why? Speed and swerving back and forth in traffic. It causes horrific accidents. AAA reports the number of traffic accidents has nearly doubled to more than 500,000 a year just in the Washington, DC, area. But, are all these violent wrecks reported by TV news? No … because TV is still used by the people who sell cars and trucks for advertising.
- Gun and ammunition sales have reached historic levels. Never before have gun and ammunition sales been in such strong demand as right now. I will not get into the reasons (that’s for TV news to cover) but gun makers and ammunition makers in the US are expanding plants and working 24/7 to keep up with demand, and still there is a shortage. The financial analyst Motley Fool regularly lists Smith & Wesson as a stock to buy because its value has more than doubled in a year. Same with other weapons companies. But, the story is not touched by TV news.
- Police tanks. Police departments across the US now have fleets of black, military type tanks. Some are fitted with machine guns. What’s that all about? I first noticed the tanks that Boston rolled out in response to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing but I did not hear one person on TV news raise the question.
- Chemical spills. Here’s an example … a chemical leaks into the river at Charleston, West Virginia. Local officials have no clue what they are dealing with, and TV news – local, cable and network – goes hysterical covering the pollution. But, they do not bother to track down the name of the chemical and talk with the company in Kingsport, TN, that made the stuff, Eastman and Company. I know that Eastman was ready for calls from the media but no one called. TV news finds it more sensational, it seems, to recycle rumors.
- Earthquakes. Scientists tell me of a sharp increase in earthquake activity in states that were never known for any earthquakes. Oklahoma, North Dakota, Texas, Illinois … the list goes on. Why? Scientists link it to the practice of fracking by oil companies. Fracking apparently causes earthquakes, among other things. TV news dodges the story.
In many ways, I believe TV news has become its own worse enemy, and the brunt of jokes by comedians, such as Jon Stewart. It is a sad and unfortunate joke.