Media Feeding Frenzy Anyone?
Ah yes, the media feeding frenzy. Imagine having a hoard of reporters and photographers pouncing on you as you go out to check the mail, in your dressing gown. Unless your name happens to be Kardashian or Lady Gaga, most folks wouldn’t expect a media feeding frenzy in their front yard. But it happens.
What’s a media feeding frenzy? Well, I know two kinds. One is the media crowd on location, jostling and yelling to get information. It’s more a scrum than a media gathering as, armed with voice recorders, cameras, boom mikes, and lights, they devour their “prey.” Later, with edited highlights, their polished results are produced for the nightly news, or the next print run.
Then there’s another type of media feeding frenzy, involving Ping-Pong reporting. Anchor hosts in TV studios, cross live back-and-forth to various on the ground reporters, experts, relatives, neighbors, and anyone else worth dredging up to keep fueling a story.
At it’s crudest, commercial stations use news as fuel for revenue. The bigger the audience, the more money they can charge for hosting advertising. In that sense, gathering news is business. So it stands that the longer a media feeding frenzy can be sustained on a story pulling a big audience, the better it is for the station. If it means harassing people to milk just a little bit more out of the story, then “that’s business.”
When Princess Diana died in Paris back in August 1997, it was the news event to outdo news events. The media feeding frenzy lasted for weeks, if not months, and the public lapped it up. We saw, read, and heard accounts from her staff, people at the final party, relatives, experts, bystanders, surgeons, mystics… you name it. That’s the nature of news. When something looks like it will rate, the media feel compelled to pounce. Otherwise, somebody else gets the scoop. At times, this takes the media feeding frenzy to new heights, as competing media try to up the ante to get the best result. If commercial interests mix with ego, the subsequent media feeding frenzy they generate can definitely get ugly.
We could blame the media for this mess. But the media feeding frenzy fiasco wouldn’t exist if we weren’t so eager to keep swallowing the tantalizing tidbits they throw our way. Like hungry chicks, we readily consume the news they produce. So somewhere in our psyche our desire for news outweighs our desire for dignity. Perhaps it’s primal. But if we want to treat each other with more consideration, we ought to steer our media tastes toward greater respect. Turning down the shock horror meter another notch or two will show that nobody needs to treat people so badly. I suspect most journalists would prefer to do that too. But thanks to our community’s uncaring media-eating expectations, a lot of ugliness is done. We are the reason people get ambushed in their dressing gowns, chased down the lane, and interrogated to tears. In a way, the media is of our making, and now the tail is wagging the dog.
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