When I turned on the morning news the other day, I was expecting to see, just that, news. Iím not exactly sure what I saw, but Iím quite certain it was not news.
For the past few years, itís obvious that morning news shows are aiming toward a different type of program Ė the type that can last for three or four hours and only cover one or two actual stories. Maybe itís just me, but when I turn on the television in the morning, I want to know what is going on in the world. I donít want to see concerts (especially the really lame ones) and fashion shows and cooking segments and the latest contestant to get kicked off of ďAmerican Idol,Ē ďThe Biggest Loser,Ē or ďProject Runway.Ē I donít want to try to figure out where in the world that darn reporter is and see people competing for wedding ceremonies, or watch reporters try desperately to be young and hip, when they are anything but. I want to see news, but maybe Iím the only one.
The fact of the matter is that ratings determine what works and what does not work in television, and if these programs didnít have high ratings, the news companies would probably be doing something else.
Of course, there is the another extreme in the news business. On the nightly news and the 24-hour news channels, reporters sometimes report too much. In any news story there is a line between the information that is crucial to the story and the information that is not.
During the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, the nation sympathized with the victims and wondered what could have driven a young man to commit such a heinous act. Well, the television news tried to clear up some of those questions for you. When one specific news station received the videotaped manifesto of the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, they decided to air footage of the student acting crazy and expressing his hatred for the rest of the student body. The tape contained short video clips and came complete with an 1,800 word manifesto, in which Cho proclaimed himself a martyr.
News organizations throughout the country aired the images and video of Cho, despite the fact that by doing so they were giving the gunman exactly what he wanted. Students at the school and the families of the victims said it felt like a second assault, but news stations aired the material anyway, because of the ratings they knew they would receive.
As a newspaper employee, I understand the importance of ratings or newsstand sales, or whatever you measure your success by, but I think at some point the worth of the content has to be put first. Otherwise there will be little distinction between actual news and material that belongs in the supermarket tabloids.