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The Media

Tragedy, Media and Marketing 712

If only H.L. Mencken or A.J. Liebling were still around to weigh in on the kidnapping stories suffusing our media lately. Alas, they're not. They wouldn't even be able to find work these days. And too bad. If healthy media criticism still existed, someone might have pointed out the insane hype that shrouded tragedies like the death of Princess Di and TWA Flight 800. Pandering media hype isn't new to people who've been on the Net or the Web. Just consider the hacking and porno scares and insane coverage of offspring companies like Microsoft and Amazon. Why does a case like the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart get so much attention when others just as horrific get none at all? The answer is as obvious as it is depressing.

Magazine and newspaper critics -- like Liebling, Mencken and I.F. Stone -- once wrote bitingly and insightfully about the greed, hypocrisy and warped values of the people who ran conventional news organizations, and about how those traits affected media coverage. This criticism gave us some context with which to grasp and comprehend what we were reading and seeing. But as media became increasingly corporatized in the 80s and 90s, such critics vanished. Media criticism turned into celebrity journalism, with a growing focus on media moguls and TV superstars. Even greedy capitalists like Bill Gates were fawned over by the toughest reporters and critics, when they should have been paying more attention to his business practices.

Every now and then, however, an old and new media issue pops up. It's disingenuous for media gasbags to wonder why the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart from Salt Lake City gets tides of media hype while the kidnapping of 7-year-old Alexis Patterson from Milwaukee gets so little. We know why. The answer has been the same for years now, and only gets more clear with each corporate acquisition of a media property: modern media is about making money, and that depends entirely on selecting stories that entertain, titillate, blow up or confront.

Last week, CNN devoted a whole program to the mysterious process by which some tragedies -- the Death of Di to name one -- get staggering amounts of media coverage, while others -- like Mother Teresa's death the same week -- merit relatively little. CNN's high-minded panelists debated whether racism was the issue: Smart is a rich white kid, Alexis Patterson is poor and black. Is there a double standard? Others suggested Smart's parents were understandably working to promote media coverage, to involve more people in searching for their daughter. But this dichotomous coverage is familiar to Net veterans. Kevin Mitnick got as much media coverage in our time as Al Capone, even though he never killed anybody. Hacking gets vastly more media attention than assault or robbery, cyber-porn more than the newsstand kind. Media are always selective about what makes them hysterical.

It was striking to realize that none of CNN's panelists came close to the simple truth: media are market-driven, not idea-substance-or-content driven. Even the once-staid weekly newsmagazines are as likely as not to have movie stars on their covers, despite the number of important stories worthy of coverage. Cable channels, newspapers and newsmagazines cater to wealthy people -- no matter what color -- because those are the consumers advertisers want to reach. To some degree, this has always been true. But as more media have been taken over by massive corporations like AOL Time-Warner, Disney and General Electric, the process has vastly accelerated. News gets marketed just like cereal. Numbers rule. Ratings shape not only news coverage, but our very perceptions of the news. Such companies don't decide not to cover Alexis Patterson because she's poor and black. Profoundly pragmatic and opportunistic, they'd be happy to exploit blacks as well as whites, if the demographics worked. They don't cover Alexis Patterson's abduction because poor viewers in Milwaukee or elsewhere have nothing to do with ratings, ad revenue or profit margins. Blonde kids from wealthy families in Salt Lake City do.

Even so-called serious media like the New York Times and Washington Post are market-driven, focused increasingly on high-end consumer products spawned by digital technology, and on entertainment and controversy. The Times runs several weekly sections brazenly aimed at affluent second home buyers, wine connoisseurs and other high-end consumers. Stories about redecorating million-dollar cottages don't appear because they're newsworthy, but because they draw readers with money, thus advertisers with revenue.

The Elizabeth Smarts of the world will always trump the Alexis Pattersons. Modern media online or off, aren't steered by editors and producers making moral and creative judgments, but by business conglomerates, lawyers, analysts and market researchers. Their sole imperative: generate controversy (a la Monica Lewinsky), select stories that draw the most desirable readers and generate the greatest profits. This principle is evident in media coverage of computing and software as well, and has been for years. Stories about the Net invariably center on marketing -- what will make the most money, or what might be of interest to frightened and confused parents, rather than what is significant. Look how much coverage child pornography online gets, and how little coverage there is of truly revolutionary techno-stories, from gene mapping to AI. And most Americans have never even heard of open source, let alone had the chance to consider it's many implications. Intellectual property and copyright laws have been re-written, thanks to digital technology, yet these stories get sporadic and incomplete coverage.

Media debates about story judgment and ethics are often this hypocritical and disingenuous, mostly because critics and panelists aren't really free to speak the truth -- moral media died decades ago. From Princess Di to terrorism to kidnapping, stories grow in a hyper-information environment, one which promotes argument and hysteria and, increasingly, filters out the lives of poor, ordinary, or non-marketable people. Modern media takes stories and filters them through an increasingly sophisticated marketing machine.Online, blogs and small sites are freer than conventional journalists to set a broader agenda, but their audiences remain small and fragmented.

Thus, there's no mystery about why Elizabeth Smart's kidnapping gets so much more attention than that of other kids. The only mystery is how long it will take the media -- and more importantly, the public -- to understand and acknowledge the reality of their own new, intensely corporate, value system.

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Tragedy, Media and Marketing

Comments Filter:
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:19PM (#3808378) Homepage Journal
    Thought I'd repost the article since it's been slashdotted:

    "If only H.L. Mencken or A.J. Liebling were still around to weigh in on the kidnapping stories suffusing our media lately. Alas, they're not. They wouldn't even be able to find work these days. And too bad..."

    Heh just kidding...
  • all designed... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sugrshack ( 519761 )
    to take our minds off of what may really be happening.

    You might want to read Chomsky [].

    • I'm sorry, but refferring to chomsky everytime there's a debate regarding the media just doesn't cut it... so many times I've seen first year university students portray the behavious of the "how do you like them apples?" attitude of Good Will Hunting that it sickens me.

      Yes, chomsky has some amazing insights, stats, etc... into modern media but he isn't the answer, solution, nor effect of what's happened site media corporatization (is that a word?).

      mc is a good read, and I would recommend it to everyone, but even manufacturing consent was manufactured...
    • Re:all designed... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lrichardson ( 220639 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:09PM (#3808866) Homepage
      "to take our minds off of what may really be happening"

      "Media debates about story judgment and ethics are often this hypocritical and disingenuous, mostly because critics and panelists aren't really free to speak the truth -- moral media died decades ago"

      Personally, I find it hilarious when people talk about the 'liberal left-wing' media. The primary news sources for 99.9% of Americans are owned by a scant handful of interests. Hell, one company now owns over three quarters of all the radio stations in the US! And these owners have a number of traits in common: f$cking wealthy, believe in the status quo (hey, they got where they are within the system ... so don't see any need to change it), and, most disturbing, are taking more and more of an active interest in leaning on (or dumping) reporters who dare to question things.

      Politics is still fair game. It's almost entirely rhetoric, the two parties almost always work out a compromise ... and, just like the media owners, virtually all politicos come from f$cking wealthy parents (the gentleman in the White House as an example). And both parties are far, far to the right of the average American as a consequence.

      OTOH, any reporter who tried to give Nader serious coverage ran into some real problems ... geez, we had reporters threatened here in the middle of nowhere (aka Des Moines (although, to be fair, they consider themselves the moral starting point of the Republicans))

      For a really scary example, take those two 'reporters' who were captured in Iraq. Due to travel, got to see the stories both in Canada and the US. The Canadian news (government station) talked about their easily established links to the CIA and Military Intelligence, and showed photos of the 'road' where they crossed the border ... deep trench, rolls of barbed wire on both sides, and signs (in multiple languages, including English) saying 'Don't cross, Iraqi border'. On the US side, nothing. Well, they were 'innocent victims' who 'accidentally' wandered into Iraq. The media in the US has become self-censoring, the joy of any abusive government.

      And think about the coverage anyone who questions the current 'War on Terrorism' gets ... either little or none, or is savagely attacked for being unpatriotic.

      • Re:all designed... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by H310iSe ( 249662 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @03:03PM (#3809397)
        It's funny, I was thinking about this subject during my morning quality reading time (john) - there was an article about a U Illinois media prof. who complains about how media is run as big-business and that's inherently opposed to the spirit of the first ammendment. He cited the lack of dailys in NYC (down from 9 in the 1940's) and the inability of any small publisher (think Zine) to reach a wide audience.

        I mean, first off, NY has at 2 free weeklies, the post and the times (radically different styles) and that new conservative-funded rag (I forget the name) so there are 5 papers running there. Considering the rise of TV and general displacement of print media down to 5 from 9 isn't so bad.

        Secondly, and more importantly, it's kind of blaming the messenger isn't it? I mean, other news is available to us, obviously, even if it's not spoon-fed from the checkout line. If people aren't reading/watching it, it's because they don't want to. I blame the quality, the timber if you will, of the Average American much more than I do the Media Giants. If you think they're all brainwashed by Murdoch then you're taking away free choice and postulating a rat-in-the-maze/pavlovian world (which I sort-of don't think is how things really are). If you accept that we have choice, and you can't deny the choice exists, then we must conclude that people WANT to read about rich white mormon girls. WHY don't Zines thrive? WHY don't people look to or whatever for their news? Because they simply don't want to.

        I know there are other factors, but the fact that Americans (in particular) don't fit in to the image we'd like them to (of free-thinking, compassionate, caring folks who want to know the Truth) we can't say it's Media's fault. It's our fault. Americans.
  • Alexis Patterson (Score:2, Interesting)

    by kwishot ( 453761 )
    Every now and then, however, an old and new media issue pops up. It's disingenuous for media gasbags to wonder why the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart from Salt Lake City gets tides of media hype while the kidnapping of 7-year-old Alexis Patterson from Milwaukee gets so little.

    Do you live in Milwaukee? Have you ever been to Milwaukee? Do you realize that for the past two months (or however long she's been missing) it's been on the news almost every day in Milwaukee? There are flyers in most local businesses with her picture. There are tons of things in the paper.
    I've never said anything, JonKatz, about your unwarranted rantings, but this is too far. Oh, and by the way, how did you find out about Alexis Patterson? Doing an internet search about missing kids in the recent past and running across some media coverage of the story?
    • by Vuarnet ( 207505 ) <> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:29PM (#3808485) Homepage
      Do you live in Milwaukee? Have you ever been to Milwaukee? Do you realize that for the past two months (or however long she's been missing) it's been on the news almost every day in Milwaukee? There are flyers in most local businesses with her picture. There are tons of things in the paper.

      I live in Mexico. I have never heard before about the Alexis Patterson kidnapping. Yet when I watch CNN, there's a lot of stories about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping. And I have to (somewhat painfully) agree with Jon Katz about this one.

      The Big Media tends to take one story and latch on to it, and squeeze it for all the money it can get. It's either that, or the Smarts have been paying afwully huge amounts of money to buy airtime in several media channels and newspapers and such.

      It's not like the O.J. murder trial or the Blake murder trial. They're famous people, so more people know them and want to know what's going on with those cases. In the Smart case, they're taking someone unknown and making her famous. And it's not "the people" deciding it. It's the studio execs. It's Ted Turner. It's people with a desire to earn more money through selling advertisement to more viewers.

      • It's just like the Keven Shepard case. There are three rules to making the mass media when something tragic happens to you.

        1: you (or a good portion of your pictures/footage) have to be attractive (this is required)
        2: you have to be "normal", no extremist views for you
        3: you have to identify as "that could be my kid/husband/me!" to a great majority of the add-buying populus.

        the only way to avoid this is to kill like 30 people, but even then you will only get a few days coverage before your trial if you don't fit those rules.

        You will also notice there will be only one contriversial issue covered in depth at a time, this is so everyone knows what to make idle chatter about the next day. If it makes good idle chatter they will continue running it until it gets old. Yes it's disturbing, but really how much do you *really* care about these cases anyway, unless they happen in your neighborhood.
    • Elizabeth Smart's case is being heavily covered in national media. Alexis Patterson's is not.
    • Re:Alexis Patterson (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anml4ixoye ( 264762 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:34PM (#3808543) Homepage
      I am on the net every day. I watch TV a bit, but most of my info comes from news sites and the paper. And as much as I have been on it in the past month, I had no idea who Alexis Patterson was.

      His point was not that there was no media coverage, but that for Alexis it was very localized, while for Elizabeth Smart it was highly covered nationally.

      Oh, and by the way, how did you find out about Alexis Patterson? Doing an internet search about missing kids in the recent past and running across some media coverage of the story

      You make a valid point, but if you go over to, and look on the front page, I can find all of the info I want for the Smart kidnapping. That is the coverage issues he is referring to.

      • It is painfully obvious that the Smart kidnapping is getting more widespread press coverage than all of the other similar events in this country. But what is the point of merely pointing that out? My issue is that Katz only points this fact out. That isn't a news story either, it is a simple observation. Duh. The execs control the news we see and hear? Holy Jebus, what a revelation!

        Slashdot algorithm excerpt:

        if numberofsubmissions is less than 5
        run katzbot

    • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:34PM (#3808551) Homepage
      I've never said anything, JonKatz, about your unwarranted rantings, but this is too far.

      Well, I live outside Milwaukee and this media junkie hasn't heard word one about Ms. Patterson's kidnapping. I also live outside Salt Lake and the airwaves are filled with Ms. Smart's story. What Katz says in this case is spot on.

      I wish people such as yourself would stop and think before posting a knee-jerk anti-Katz response. Sometimes he does say stuff that's worthwhile and this is one of those times.

    • Maybe, but nationally the story received very little coverage, except for all the "why does the Smart case get all the attention when the same thing happened in Milwaukee?" rants. There have been plenty media rants on that topic, which is how I found out about Alexis Patterson, and probably how Katz did too.
    • by daoine ( 123140 )
      Actually, I thought it was kind of funny to read Katz's story, because I knew that I read it before...many times.

      The same commentary [] showed up in the Milwaukee Journal in early June. (note, not from Milwaukee, I think an Elizabeth Smart article actually had the link, but I can't find it)

      The Washington Post wrote about it []two weeks ago.

      This isn't really insightful. It's doesn't really have a /. slant to it, or any new information - quite a few people have said it before. A Google search [] for alexis patterson media coverage pretty much tells all. I'm sure you could get more by playing with the search terms.

    • I'm in New York City. Milwaukee is far far away, as is Salt Lake City. I never heard of Alexis, I never saw Alexis on the news. The first time I heard of Alexis was... Well... Now.

      Truth is, I watched each news broadcast about Elizabeth Smart with two conflicting emotions. "God, that's horrible. Poor little girl." And "Wait a minute. She can't possibly be the only kid who has been kidnapped since the last kidnapping news story I saw. Why the heck is she getting so much media coverage...?" Which was answered shortly after that. "Oh. She's overprivilidged".

      It's no news that kids with money are more important than those without. It's no news that kids from affluent families are more likely to get media time, if only because the parents know how to publicize things.

      You cannot say that Alexis has gotten nearly as much coverage as Smart. I mean.. C'mon. Barely a day passes without Smart's picture being on *Something*. I hear her name mentioned more than I hear about Israel, more than I hear about terrorist threats, more than I hear about things that happened in the city I'm living in.

      American media is insane.

    • Re:Alexis Patterson (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ascarave ( 589720 )
      Well, my response comes from someone who does live in Salt Lake City. Our city is also plastered with posters of the local "little girl lost". Our TV stations blare the speculation and show the daily media updates where family members say informative things like "no comment", "our story has not changed" and "we hope she comes home safely". I will spare everyone my ananlysis and disgust at this whole story from my local outlook. Salt Lake City is a very conservative town, but we do have a couple of alternative media outlets such as City Weekly. It is because of this media that I have heard of Alexis Patterson. Of course, the only reason I have heard about her is that many of us have grown disgusted at the hypocrisy in Salt Lake City of the Elizabeth Smart story. Jon Katz is dead on with his analysis from what I see. Two years ago, by the way, we had a young girl disappear from a less affluent side of town and turn up dead a couple of days later in the Jordan River. Total news coverage dedicated to that was basically zero. Rich white Mormon girls disappearing from their own homes sells. Like it or not, the desirable demographic identifies more with that then with a poor black girl, or even a poor white girl. If Elizabeth's daddy were not affluent, we would not be hearing this story in all likelyhood. Children disappear across America every day. Another reason the Elizabeth Smart case makes the headlines is that it stinks to high heaven. There is something really wrong here and the wolves that write the stories are hoping that eventually we discover the deep, dark truth of what happened and they can sell millions of copies.
    • Re:Alexis Patterson (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ocbwilg ( 259828 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:05PM (#3808833)
      Do you live in Milwaukee? Have you ever been to Milwaukee? Do you realize that for the past two months (or however long she's been missing) it's been on the news almost every day in Milwaukee? There are flyers in most local businesses with her picture. There are tons of things in the paper.

      I've never said anything, JonKatz, about your unwarranted rantings, but this is too far. Oh, and by the way, how did you find out about Alexis Patterson? Doing an internet search about missing kids in the recent past and running across some media coverage of the story?

      Err...I don't live in Milwaukee. I haven't the slightest clue who Alexis Patterson is, or rather I didn't until she was referenced in this article. This is the first that I've heard of her or her abduction.

      Neither do I live in Salt Lake City. I live in Ohio. I've heard of Elizabeth Smart. I not only know who she is, I can tell you exactly what she looks like and what she was wearing when she was abducted. I can tell you what her abductor was reportedly wearing the night of the abduction.

      Not only that, I can name each of Elizabeth's siblings, her parents, and even her uncle. I can tell you what suburb of Salt Lake City they live in. I can tell the name of the handyman who has done construction work for the family and is now a chief suspect. I can tell you what he was paid for his work. I can tell you what kind of car the handyman drives. I can tell you that the handyman lives in a mobile home nextdoor to his in-laws who also live in a mobile home. I can tell you that he has pet cats.

      I can tell you that Elizabeth's younger sister has told two different stories of what happened the night that Elizabeth disappeared. I can tell you that there was a statewide search during which someone claims to have seen a suspect matching the abductor's description acting strangely in a wooded ravine area, but that further investigation turned up nothing. I can tell you that police have investigated false sightings of Elizabeth as far away as Texas, and that there was also a nationwide manhunt for a material witness who was found after a week in a hospital in the eastern US.

      I have no interest whatsoever in either of these abduction cases. The chances of me ever needing to use any of this information is so far beyond miniscule as to be laughable, but it has all been imprinted in my head, and I don't even watch the news that much.

      Milwaukee may be saturated with news of the abduction of Alexis Patterson, but that saturation doesn't even touch the surface of the nationwide saturation of news regarding Elizabeth Smart. This is in addition to the local saturation in Salt Lake City that I'm sure is every bit as bad as that in Milwaukee. Your post is seriously off base when considering the vast difference in the scale of media hype.
    • by falzbro ( 468756 )
      I live in Madison, which is about 60 miles from Milwaukee. While I have heard of Alexis from our local AM radio morning guy, I've not seen it on the daily local news, newspaper, etc.

      Indeed, I had heard of the SLC chick days if not a week or so before I had heard of Alexis. Hell, I know NOTHING about Alexis other than it's "some girl missing" but I DO know that the SLC chick was hunting down some random guy that drove a few thousand miles on his car, from watching CNN two days a week for a half hour at home during lunch.

      IMHO, neither should be more than a blurb in the news. Yes it's a tragedy, but didnt some planes just crash in to each other? Didnt some pilots just try to fly a plane drunk?

      It's unfortunate that once a story like this breaks, they MUST continue to keep it in the press all of the time because the housewives of the world need to find out whats happening to their new weekly obsession.

    • Your missing the point.

      E. Smart gets nationwide coverage while A. Patterson is unheard of outside Milwaukee. So, as long as she's still *in* Milwaukee, she has a chance of being found I guess.

      Well, as a wise man once said, "We have stone-age minds and space-age business suits." Or something like that...
  • A worse story (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Vought 28 ( 584320 )
    A few years ago, a journalist and a vietnam vet ( a colonel ) were talking about the media. The reporter said the news should always be impartial, just as he himself had been when covering the Vietnam war. So the colonel asks him "If you were filming some US service men in that war, and you saw a Viet Cong ambush coming, would you warn the US men or just keep filming?" The reporter said he would do nothing, just keep filming, as newsmen should never interfere, just record. The colonel came close to striking the reporter over that. So, is impartiality more important than human lives ?
  • Hacking gets almost no coverage in the mainstream media outside of the 8 second blurb about some devastating email virus every now and then.

    The Mitnick story makes no ripples when two airplanes crash into each other over Germany and American bombs mistakenly take out a wedding party instead of our bearded foes.

    The news and hype around hackers that you speak of is only visible in dark reaches of the Net like ZDNet and Slashdot. CNN, MSNBC, and the other Major internet news outlets relegate these stories to the Technology page where they rightly belong.
  • Bias (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by peterdaly ( 123554 )
    Looks to me like Katz just got done reading "Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News []".

    That book came out about the beginning of the year, and recieved quite a bit of press and publicity a few months ago. It's an insiders view at CBS of what makes news become news, and what doesn't.

    From the Publisher
    IN HIS NEARLY thirty years at CBS News, Emmy Award- winner Bernard Goldberg earned a reputation as one of the preeminent reporters in the television news business. When he looked at his own industry, however, he saw that the media far too often ignored their primary mission: objective, disinterested reporting...

    Talks about what he believes to be "liberal bias", although I think Katz's description is better than the term Goldberg puts on it.

    If you are interested in this topic, you may want to give the book a read.

    (affiliate link above...just so ya know.)
    • Another winner is How to watch tv news [] by neil postman.
  • by Hnice ( 60994 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:25PM (#3808440) Homepage
    Something I've been kicking around for a while, and I'm neither pro nor against, so I'm wondering if anyone would like to think this through with me, is the idea of strict rules (either from the govt or some trade organization) regarding what can and can't be called 'news'. If i make my orange juice from concentrate, i have to tell people. If i manufacture my sparkling wine in brooklyn, i can't call it champagne. Perhaps there's a public good in someone saying, "it's not news if it's for-profit", or "it's not news if there's any commercials", or something like that.

    It doesn't solve the problem, but it does highlight the phenomenon. Anyone?
    • I think this is an interesting idea.

      Essentially, some governing body would determine that the following categories of information were news, and other categories were "features". Sports scores and actions are "news", but the Bob Costas-style features are just features, not really news. Political wrangling is news, but what the First Lady wore to dinner and who she talked to is a feature.

      There are a lot of judgment calls that would have to be made, and some mechanism for producing those calls would need to be standardized. If someone was doing it on a subscription basis, I'd buy.

    • by gerardrj ( 207690 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:37PM (#3809149) Journal

      Even something as simple as being forced to reveal the initial source of the story. How many 'news' stories today are nothing more then press releases, or marketing hype from a company that's been latched on to by media and re-spun to look relatively neutral.

      Perhaps some other rules should be set in place by this oversight body. Any new show, magazine, paper or other meda that follows these rules will be able to use the trademarked name of something like 'Real-NEWS'

      If a TV station where to follow these rules, they could have one broadcast of the news that is certified. They could run another show where they report all the fluff they want, and still call it news, it just woudn't be certified. A paper could just insert a 'real-NEWS' section and put all the real news there. The rest of the paper could be the standard fluff. My idea for some rules (in no particuar order):

      • Whenever a report of a passenger plane, train or other large crash or some other disater (like 9/.11) is reported, it will be obligatory to also report the number of automobile collisions and deaths for the current reporting day and year to date. These events are trivial in the perspective of killings and death by accident that occur on a daily basis, the public needs to understand these are really non-events. They are only reported because nothing draws a crowd like a large fireball.
      • When a couple has a litter of 5 or more kids that gets glamourized on TV as a 'miracle', they must also report on how much the popluation will be subsidizing them via the tax breaks they will be getting just for being over-breeders. They must futher report on the number of un-adopted children living in orphanages awaiting a home and family.
      • Any 'sound bite' must include the previous 15 and following 15 seconds of audio. The same should go for written stories with a 'previous three and following three' sentences from the desired quote. The media continually cherry pick quotes, ofen out of context, to sensationalize their story.
      • Nothng should be reported on the national news unless it affects at lest 1/3 of the population of the country. I think that' a nice low number and will still weed out all these 'some kid abducted' stories. The fact is that most all news is local news. The national news should latch on to the 'real' stories and provide in-depth unbiased coverage of those stories.
      • Require that no advertising related to a story will apear in the broadcast, or on the same page as the story in print.
      • Anything based on a press release instead of independent/objective research and interviews will not be reported as a news item. It will be placed in the advertisement or opinion sections of a broadcast/paper/magazine.
  • Every weekday Howard Kurtz (author of Spin Cycle []), runs a column in the Washington Post called Media Notes []. He summarizes the reporting on big and small issues, and provides great context to the media in general. He wrote about the Elizabeth Smart / Alexis Patterson issue over a week ago. He's very balanced, so don't go expecting either side of the Crossfire type of approach. All in all, I highly recommend his column if you're in to this kind of stuff.
  • Offspring co. (Score:3, Informative)

    by EyesWideOpen ( 198253 ) <curtis AT cusmith DOT com> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:26PM (#3808452) Homepage Journal
    Just consider the hacking and porno scares and insane coverage of offspring companies like Microsoft and Amazon.

    I'm not sure that I understand this statement. What makes Microsoft an offspring company? Or Amazon for that matter?!
    • What makes Microsoft an offspring company?

      Because their business-model is "give it to me baby!"
    • I was going to post the same thing. I have no idea what he is talking about here. what porno scare? hacking scare? and how are these related to MS and Amazon?

      the only porno scare I see is at


      Magazine and newspaper critics -- like Liebling, Mencken and I.F. Stone -- once wrote bitingly and insightfully about the greed, hypocrisy and warped values of the people who ran conventional news organizations...

      what are you saying here? what I read is that you are a little jealous of their "talent" - I read that you would like to be considered of their ilk. is this acurate?

  • Face it, no one can focus on all kidnappings etecetera that's happenning around the globe. Some stories are picked out, displayed and discussed.

    In Lady Di's case, the story is really about drunk driving. We use a story to discuss bigger things. People take to a story because it touches on bigger issues. The OJ trial for example. Of course many of these stories are about celebrities. That is so we can all relate to them.


  • The answer is as obvious as it is depressing

    yes, the answer was obvious
    and it was depressing that someone would spend a whole article writing about it

    on a related side note... anyone ever watch CNN headline news anymore? That drastic stupid change they went through makes me want to shoot my TV.

    Here's a real life example I've seen several times now:
    "Hey, thanks for watching CNN Headline News! We'll leave you with music by 'Insert Lame Band Here' who just happened to stop by our studios to play for us"

    Oh... and I bet they just happen to be signed by a AOL/Time Warner record label.

    WTF is up with that. CNN Headline News used to be a somewhat reliable source of important news. Now they lead with how Britney Spears is starting her concert tour, and then 18 minutes into the half our, they mention a little blurb about bombing in Israel or something
    • WTF is up with that. CNN Headline News used to be a somewhat reliable source of important news. Now they lead with how Britney Spears is starting her concert tour, and then 18 minutes into the half our, they mention a little blurb about bombing in Israel or something

      I don't watch CNN so much, but I do hit their web site a few times a day. What I've noticed lately (and I say this at the risk of being labelled as anti-semitic) is an overdose of news coverage about the violence in the Middle East. Sure, a bomb goes off and it's "headline news". That makes sense. But for several days in a row during the last week the "headline story" on the CNN website has been something like, "Bus drivers fear more bombings" or "Israelis live in fear." Well, no shit. But was there another bombing that day? No. Were there certainly more newsworthy articles to have as the headline story? Yes. But they all got bumped to a lesser position so that CNN can run a "headline story" about an Israeli bus driver who is afraid that his bus will be the next to blow up. That's not a "headline story". That's not even news. That's simply common sense.
  • What a surprise. Katz says nothing particularly original [].
  • by cOdEgUru ( 181536 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:31PM (#3808507) Homepage Journal
    Couple of days back US warplanes dropped a bomb on a marriage party in Afghanistan killing over 50. And there hasnt been more than a couple of columns in the western media about the whole story. Is it because their lives are not important as the ones who perished on 9/11. If its confirmed that US fscked up by dropping the bomb, would the 40 men,women and children get any justice as well ?

    Also recently Salon had an article on US Military Contractors buying and selling under age girls in troubled areas in Europe (Bosnia etc.). Would any western news firm pick up this story and let the world know that the Army isnt full of people who would lay down their lives in the blink of an eye for freedom and against oppression ? In this post 9/11 world, I would suprised if that news story ever got out. MSNBC ran a story on this a few weeks back, but didnt touch on the Military Contractors aspect. And then we wonder why everyone hates US ?

    Being rich, being powerful, being able to garner the most media coverage seems to be the only way now to live.

    Around 1800 people lost their livelihood because of some assholes in Worldcom. Would CNN/MSNBC etc. care a fsck about those people. Nope, we linger upon the luxurious indulgences of the CEOS and CFOs, but doesnt care jackshit about the ordinary guy who got laidoff and now has to find a job to support his family.

    Companies screw each other and the public over and over everyday. I just heard a story of the root cause of all this being blamed on Clinton and Ben&Jerry. The reason being, Clinton and his Govt mandating that a CEOs base salary should never be over 1 million, but doesnt impose any ceiling on the amount of stock he could receive. Which leads to cooking the books and then laying of hundreds of people because the company cant survive.

    Its a shitty world out there folks. And its not getting better day by day.
    • by Stonehand ( 71085 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:46PM (#3808657) Homepage
      Put down the crack pipe.

      Regarding the Afghan wedding, there's been coverage at least on CBS, NBC, BBC, New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC, and undoubtably others but I don't have the time to monitor that many more news sources than I already do. MCI Worldcom has been a similarly large story, including pointless short interviews with just-laid-off ex-employees (Gee, they're frustrated. What the hell did the reporters expect?).

      And that "story" regarding Clinton is even more absurd, considering that the Fed. government doesn't have the power to cap base salaries.
      • He didn't cap salaries per se, he just capped the amount of money corporations could deduct. The way it used to be, when you'd pay your CEO 10 million dollars, you could deduct that 10 million from your profits to lower your tax liability. This was done because paying a CEO is a legitimate business expense, he's essentially an outside party (NOT an Employee) that is providing leadership for the corporation. It would be the same as if you paid a consultant to be your CIO, you'd pay him X dollars and deduct that because it would be a business expense.
        So once the salary deductions for CEOs were capped at 1 million dollars, corporations would lose exorbitant amounts of money if they paid the CEO over that amount. They'd be taxed on money they had already spent (kinda like taxing someone on the money they spend on their mortgage, or taxing a farmer on money he spends on fertilizer). So instead, they began giving CEOs stock options. Those could still be deducted. The problem is, the only way the stock has monetary value is if the CEO sells it, and he/she only makes money if it sells at a high price. So they begin fiddling with the books to drive stock prices up so they can actually make some money (nevermind the fact that capital gains taxes would still rip them a new one, but I digress). If CEOs were still paid in cash, there would be less incentive for them to 'cook the books'. And if they hadn't seen the President of the United States get convicted of a felony, disbarred, and then come out of it making millions off of speech deals, with a 12 million dollar book advance, and a 200 million dollar slush fund for his library... Well maybe they wouldn't think they could get away with it to.
    • Is it because their lives are not important as the ones who perished on 9/11. If its confirmed that US fscked up by dropping the bomb, would the 40 men,women and children get any justice as well ?

      As others have pointed out, there is definitely not a lack of coverage, but that said, the difference is that their lives were not intentionally targeted, whereas the WTC lives were.

    • Couple of days back US warplanes dropped a bomb on a marriage party in Afghanistan killing over 50. And there hasnt been more than a couple of columns in the western media about the whole story

      I beg to differ -- I've had the news networks running in the background all day as I work from home. All of the stations seem to be nothing more than detailed speculation on what happened...

      After spending a week in Paris, I wish I could get the non-us version of CNN however.
    • You could at least check the front page of CNN.COM before you dumped such a pathetic troll.

      Dateline is 01:50 p.m. EDT (1750 GMT) -- 2 July 2002, lead story headline is "Searching for Answers", lead sentence is "Afghan and American officials headed to an Afghan village today to begin an investigation into why U.S. planes mistakenly struck a wedding party, killing about 40 people and wounding about 100."

      You, my friend, are a dumbass. We're not all out to get you, you're just that paranoid.
    • Dude, it was on the front page of the cnn website. What more do you want? Billboards?

      I agree that the media has problems, but keep your arguments sane.
  • Why does a case like the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart get so much attention when others just as horrific get none at all?

    Let us not forget that news has exactly one purpose: to sell advertising.
  • If only H.L. Mencken or A.J. Liebling were still around to weigh in on the kidnapping stories suffusing our media lately. Alas, they're not. They wouldn't even be able to find work these days.

    The real tragedy here is that we've got a pabulum-spouting geek who writes for a news source that can't even be bothered to spell-check headlines implying that H.L. Mencken or A.J. Liebling couldn't fill his shoes.

    That makes me sad.

  • by Reckless Visionary ( 323969 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:33PM (#3808527)
    So Jon, your conclusion that everyone is too afraid to say why the Elisabeth Smart case is probably true. But it has nothing to do with media conglomerates, wealthy people, or race (which you correctly discarded). It has to do with sex. What you were afraid to say is that the pictures of this little girl were perfect to entice audiences in a sex crime story. Sex sells, especially sex with little girls. And especially when there's violence involved. This is America, and sure there is corporate greed involved, but its method of exploiting the story is being glossed over.
  • by jonman_d ( 465049 ) <`nemilar' `at' `'> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:33PM (#3808530) Homepage Journal
    Not to be off-topic - and let me stress that I'm not a Katz basher - but I got pretty much sick of this article right away. Why? Lets say I stopped reading right about here:

    "Even greedy capitalists like Bill Gates..."

    It seems that capitalism is wrong in america these days. Nobody is preaching socialism, but everybody is dissing capitalism. Yes, Bill Gates is a capitalist. But come to think of it, so am I. And so are almost all Americans. The real problem with Bill Gates is not that he's a capitalist, and not that he controls a monopoly (let me remind you that having a monopoly is not illegal), but that he illegaly uses his monopoly.

    Just because Bill Gates was successful doesn't make him an eeeeevil greedy capitalist. Mind you, he's given billions to charities.
  • One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic.
  • by Gorbie ( 101704 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:36PM (#3808560) Journal
    While this article is very true, what else can we do? Do we give control of the news media to the government? Not in my lifetime, I hope. We criticize other governments, ie. Cuba and Afghanistan for filtering news and distributing the propaganda they want their citizens to hear. Do we want to be subject to this more than we already are?

    Do we make news organizations strictly non-profit groups? Would this work in the T.V. and radio markets? If the stations were making no money running news, would they bother, or just re-run Seinfeld episodes so we could hear about "nothing". Easier to do in the print and internet larket, but still not easy. Those entities need to make enough money to keep the presses running and the data lines live.

    In the end, news as a free market entity means that we can all get it. If it weren't for advertisers in a newspaper, the cover price would be quite significantly more than $.50 or so. It may be manipulated by corporate America to a certain extent, but it is also flowing with idealistic people that want to tell us something. Until we can come up with a cheap system that doesn't need sponsorship or government intervention, this might be the best system on the planet.

    • by Stonehand ( 71085 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:00PM (#3808803) Homepage
      Teach logic, critical thinking and statistical reasoning in schools. Teach about traditional propaganda techniques and the ways that biased sources distort truth -- not only by outright lies or mere fudging, but by the selection or omission of information. In other words, lead them to rational, analytical modes of thinking rather than the mere absorbtion of emotionally manipulative tripe that gets served as "news" these days, especially on TV.

      Oh, and support media watchdogs like Spinsanity [] and their ilk -- groups that care about correctness, rather than transparently carrying out political vendettas.
    • Just one of the Problems

      One of the current problems with the media that it's turned into one big oligopoly and it's sleeping with the FCC so it can retain its status.

      All media companies need a conduit to deliver thier content to viewers/users, whether it's the airwaves (TV/Radio), Cable, and now Internet (via Telephone for most users).

      The FCC controls ALL of these conduits (With the exception of some private networks).

      One Solution

      1. Regulate/deregulate the FCC's control so that the costs of running a TV channel, radio station is virtually nothing, thus introducing competition.

      2. Regulate/deregulate the Baby Bell's exclusive control over the telephone infrastructure to facilitate the deployment of broadband technologies. Maybe seperate service from infrastructure.
  • Agreed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JMan1 ( 200342 )
    It's just ridiculous how much "news" time is devoted to following one story that really isn't remotely important on a national scale. Obviously any kidnapping/murder is a tragedy, but isn't there anything more significant to devote hours and hours of breathless reporting to? JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy, whoever this little girl is -- these stories are not news, they're human interest.

    You could argue that 24 hours of several different networks is just too much time to fill with real news, but surely they could use it for more in-depth reporting on real issues. Maybe they could actually educate the public somewhat. Didn't that use to be their job? News should not be entertainment, except in the sense that learning stuff is entertaining.

    I'm not saying they shouldn't have a network or two just for little white girl stories if that's what people want to watch, but there should be SOMEBODY other than public radio/tv to provide actual news and important information.

    It's like radio stations - okay, have a few top 40s stations. But can't we have a couple that play quality music too? Other than public radio?

    I guess these are just ends that the free market goes to automatically, but it sure is depressing. There must be some way to correct the problem without introducing bigger ones.
    • It's just ridiculous how much "news" time is devoted to following one story that really isn't remotely important on a national scale. Obviously any kidnapping/murder is a tragedy, but isn't there anything more significant to devote hours and hours of breathless reporting to? JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy, whoever this little girl is -- these stories are not news, they're human interest.

      If I had a local news station, I'd pepper the regular programming with commercials saying things like "Are you sick of hearing about Chandra Levy? We are too! Tune in to Channel 4 News at 11:00 PM, now 100% Chandra Free!"

      The funny thing is, I don't know anybody who doesn't complain about this kind of coverage. You'd think that a TV news station would catch on and realize that they could gain marketshare by not beating a dead horse (or intern) and advertising that fact. It really is sickening that 10 minutes of every national newscast has to be dedicated to a local interest story simply so that they can say "there's nothing new to report in this case today, so we're just going to keep re-hashing the same old shit we've been telling you for days."
  • ...but everytime I read through the description of a slashdot news story and do not get what the story is about, I can be sure that JonKatz was the author.

    No flaming intended and nothing personal, but just now I read through it, continued surfing and suddenly I thought "hell..what was that story on slashdot again?" That only happens with JonKatz stories...

  • I know it may be in bad form for me to post twice on the same topic, but as a separate thread it really must be emphasized that CNN has very little to do with the delivery of serious news. CNN has been turned in scandalvision, with hour-long exposees night after night rehashing the tiniest insignificant details of the sensational story du jour, while the "hard news" delivered between these programs consists primarily of either disaster photos or pictures of zoo animals.

    Greta van Sustren and Larry King are really just providing a televised version of the National Enquirerer.

  • Anyone interested in truely alternative modern mass media critiques should read Noam Chomsky's "Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies" or "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" (or watch the documentary by the same name by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick).

    A quote from the zmag chomsky archive [] website says "The authors identify the forces that they contend make the national media propagandistic -- the major three being the motivation for profit through ad revenue, the media's close links to and often ownership by corporations, and their acceptance of information from biased sources."

    Chomsky's writing don't touch on the processes that make one young girl's kidnapping more
  • 1) Mainstream media is all about the making money.
    2) Mainstream America has an attention span of 20 seconds.
    3) A vacuum of media critics.

    I pretty much agree with the above, though recently you see the right and left sides of the media attacking/criticising each other. Limbaugh and Fox News vs. CNN and the Networks ("Let's get ready to ruuuuuummmmmmble!"), but this is even probably more suited for marketing rather than fair criticism. The fairest critic I've found, even though he is a conservative, is Sean Hannity. Obviously there are others that I just don't know about.

    I think that the first two points really emphasize why web news is popular. For anything in depth you have to go someplace, while maybe biased, that at least doesn't leave out large chunks of the story and the background of the story. This depth is not sexy (ad friendly) nor quick to read and understand (shiny toy).

    I can't stand TV news anymore; "3 dead in sex farm explosion", "look at all the pretty people", sports, weather, "feel good story about Foo-Foo the super bunny". Newspapers aren't much better. There are more stories and they are longer, but some of them read like a 14 year old wrote it.

    For once Katz is pretty well on target, but could use some word chopping. More is not always neccesarily better.

  • The problem is not that the media picks one kidnapping over another. It's that it reports on kidnapping AT ALL. Many people tend to measure their threats by how much media coverage they get, which is why many people have a ridiculously distorted perception of the risks they face in the world.
  • Hey Jon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Wah ( 30840 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:42PM (#3808621) Homepage Journal
    If there are some good independent media outlets out there, the ones that don't get much press, why don't you write a story about them? It's nice and easy to point out the fact that multi-national exist to make the most money possible and the effects of that ethos of media coverage are deplorable. That much is obvious. But give us a hint on where to focus our attention to alleviate the problem. Tell us what is being done to combat the problem, because there are people out there fighting it. Find 'em and point 'em out. The rest of use have real work to do.
  • by wrinkledshirt ( 228541 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:43PM (#3808634) Homepage
    Moral media isn't dead. You just have to look harder for it.

    Now that the Sept 11th jingoism has died down and it's starting to be a non-terminal offence to express discontent versus the powers that be, you're starting to see the creepings of independent thought show up even in CNN. Up here in Canada, CTV []'s been doing it for a while. But even then there's a huge under-reporting of stories that would knock the comfort zone of the average person.

    The basic problem is this -- any media outlet is a slave to the mandate of its publisher. This isn't really new, it's as old as newspapers themselves (it used to be that if you wanted to be a politician it was a shrewd move to found your own newspaper). So, if you've got nothing but biased media out there, the only way to really inform yourself is to (a) check up on all the biases and try to develop your own conclusions from them, and (b) realize that there's no substitute for actually being at the scene of the event, or at the very least talking to someone who is.

    People who critique the media as having a bias often make the mistake of trying to sound like it's forced upon them, when really, you can choose to go out and find different information from a different source. Some options include:

    ZNet []

    The Guardian []

    The Independent []

    Le Monde Diplomatique [] (English version here [])

    Tom Tommorow []

    It also helps in times of conflict to go to the media outlets or websites of your political enemies to see what they're saying. It's amazing how they often take as gospel a premise that is completely different from your own. It's also amazing how often the exact same coercive techniques are used by both sides. Makes you wonder if there are average citizens over there are pissed off at their media as much as some of us are at ours.

    By the way, I know I went off on a bit of a tangent, but if you click on any of the links above you'll see minimal coverage of the Elizabeth Smart case. There might be a story in there at some point to tell everyone how it all turns out, but nothing like the usual CNN sensationalism. The point is, if you don't like your media, don't go back to it -- go elsewhere. It's not like we have battered wife syndrome or something.

    (or maybe we do???)
  • Remember a month or two ago when a guy flew an airplane into the Pirelli building in Italy? Remember how it was such big news because it was an airplane hitting a building and looked like it was terrorism?

    Remember how quickly it fell off the news radar when it didn't seem to be terrorism anymore?

  • It's been about a month since the last JonKatz piece. That being said this one actually raises some interesting points but I feel it misses on a couple of categories.

    Basically you have to remember that everything has an adgenda, while it may not be intended everytime remember everyone has their own biases. First their is the advertisers who want to sell their products. This means a happy worry-free audience, do you think Nike wants you hearing about poor starving kids in sweat shops or 20th Century Fox wants you hearing about DeCSS and the DMCA? Back in the early days of television news cigarrette companies sponsored broadcasts and they were specifically prohibited from showing people smoking cigars! I don't recall what they did about Churchill, whether they didn't show him or they bent the rule.

    Couple that with the fact that they also want to keep it interesting. Not only do they know that the public licks up anything scandelous they judge the story by their own interest, recall that these broadcasters tend to be quite rich, they tend to know many of these people and as a result find stories about people and places they frequent even more interesting then we do. For those of you from Canada do you know that Peter Mansbridge (the anchor of the countries major newscast) married Cynthia Dale (a famous Canadian actress). Considering my topic I realize it's kind of odd writing that (they mentioned it in the newscast one day and it was sufficiently creepy to stick) but it's meant to show that to a certain extent we are seeing the world from the eyes of movie stars and executives.

    As an aside I'm sure many of you are aware that the editor of the Ottowa Citizen was fired for urging the Prime Minister to resign in an editorial (the Prime Minister and the owner of the newspaper, a huge media conglomerate, are freinds).
  • If healthy media criticism still existed, someone might have pointed out the insane hype that shrouded tragedies like the death of Princess Di and TWA Flight 800.

    Notably absent from your list is Columbine and 911.
    Oh wait those are the ones you use. It all makes sense now.
  • There is a logical explanation for this, and it doesn't require racism, conspiracies or any other nonsense. First of all, "News" is about reporting things that are "new".

    Child disappearances are rare, but not totally unknown. The difference between Alexis Patterson and Elizabeth Smart is that Alexis is a straight disappearance. There's nothing unusual about that beyond a child disappearing.

    Elizabeth Smart, on the other hand, was taken AT GUNPOINT FROM HER HOME with her sister witnessing the act. How often does that happen? Almost never.

    John, as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Everything doesn't have to have a sinister reason behind it.

  • More than 130 comments and none of them higher than threshold 2...that's why I love those JonKatz stories ;-)))
  • is why does repeating the same damn story over and over again make anybody money?

    During the chandra levy spectacle i would have to switch the channel every time the news mentioned chandra because i had already heard every thing they had to say ten times and did not want to hear it again. Same thing with oj simpson and monice lewinsky.

    I can imagine that many other people are like me.

    So why does repeating those things ad naseum make media companie smoney?
  • Missing something (Score:3, Informative)

    by washirv ( 130045 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:48PM (#3808684)
    Specifically in the case of Elizabeth Smart, this article is missing something. It's called the LDS church. Besides being among the richest (probably the richest?) churches in the world, it is easily the most media savvy, and the most committed to its members. It also has many many connections to opinion makers. Personally, I am not surprised at all that the Smart case is getting so much coverage.
    • It's called the LDS church. Besides being among the richest (probably the richest?) churches in the world, it is easily the most media savvy, and the most committed to its members

      Couldn't agree with your post more, but just as an addendum, and for the life of me I can't find this chart online, the Church of LDS is second in overall monetary value of organized religious institutions(The Catholic Church w/ a value near 4 trillion, LDS just under 1 trillion in worth.)

      But more than that, and this was my suspicion all along while reading the Katz piece and follow up comments, is that Alexis Patterson doesn't look, how shall we say...'media friendly?' (i.e., she's Black).

      While a missing child is a missing child, White, Black, or Green, I have a strong suspicion that somewhere in the national media's line of thinking the following exchange took place:

      "Elizabeth Smart--White girl with blonde hair...a lot of people will see this as an abhorent tragedy versus Alexis Patterson...yep, another Black girl is missing, so what else is new."

      It's tragic that people think that way, but unfortunately, it is the way thigns are. I only hope both are found.
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:48PM (#3808686) Homepage
    It's hard to add to the pile, but here goes:

    About 4 years ago, during the height of the Clinton hate pander, a 12 year old kid called the on-air host of an MS-NBC program. I was watching: it was about a minute before 1 PM. The kid got through the call screeners somehow.

    The kid asked why the immense coverage of so inconsequentual an act as Clinton-Lewinski, when so many more imporant things were happening -- especially the 24/7 coverage of the MonicaStain-NBC network.

    The host, John Gibson, who is on FoxNews now (of course), looked the camera straight in the eye, and said:

    Kid? (disbelieving shake of head) You're watching this show right now, aren't you? We put on the air what you want to watch. If you didn't watch, we wouldn't show it. We have to make a profit. We have to make money, and this makes money. We have to go to the news now.

    (exit, with kid trying to respond as he was drowned out by Gibson).


    I knew news was dead in the U.S. when I heard that said so blatantly on the air.

    I respect the old guard at CBS news. They still hold the line on credibility. The others have become, as Katz said, magazines to sell stuff to rich people. And to impress their neoconservative bosses, the news journalists are censoring themselves every day. It's the only way to get promotions, and money.

    News, as a profession, used to be low-paying work, with the ownership separate from the editors. Now the head of GE wanders into the NBC election coverage headquarters on election night to make his wishes known. Journalists are being canned for criticizing the president, and need I remind you all that criticizing the President was a 24/7 religion 3-10 years ago?

    As for the kidnapping cases, you bet. Here in Chicago, kids are kidnapped every month on the south side. News will not cover that, not the innumerable shootings, stabbings, and rapes that occur. But a single beautiful white teenage girl from the suburbs, if SHE'S hurt, there is endless concern. It's so obvious.

  • Boy, can I relate... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GregAllen ( 178208 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:49PM (#3808693) Homepage
    My 5-year-old daughter was abducted by my ex-wife over 2 months ago. I have sole custody, and my ex has some pretty serious mental health problems. Sabrina is in a dangerous situation.

    The media is not very interested because she's with her mother. That's not sensational enough. Obviously they don't know the history.

    Please mod me up, and please visit my website: []
  • by jht ( 5006 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:49PM (#3808695) Homepage Journal
    The girl in Milwaukee vanished while out of the house. Sadly, that happens all the time. A story in the same vein was the Molly Bish story two years ago - a teenager was snatched right after being dropped off for her summer job as a lifeguard outside of Boston. it got big play in New England, nowhere near as much nationally.

    The Smart story strikes a vein that makes it especially newsworthy. She was taken from her house in the middle of the night. To have someone stolen in your own home like that strikes a nerve in virtually everyone.

    Whenever I hear a "vanished child" story, regardless of the details it bugs me. But my wife and I just had our first child a little while ago (ask gorbie, he's seen the pics). The Smart story is the kind of thing that creates a primal fear in every parent. The home is supposed to be the one place that's secure. When it's not, that, sadly, makes it more newsworthy. I don't relate to what happened to Alexis Patterson the way I relate to Elizabeth Smart. It's not because Alexis is black, or because she's from an inner city. It's because I have a home, and I have a child. And one of the biggest fears I can imagine is waking up in the middle of the night to find your child missing and a window open.

    To get much scarier than that, you'd need to be living a Steven King novel.
  • a cute girl on the cover or ads sells more magazines or newspapers, or tv shows.

    sex and celebrity are what tabloids thrive on, and the rest of journalism is fighting a losing battle to hold it's head up about the muck.
  • I know that you are trying to offer a bit of insight, but please create original work or give writing creit where due. A simple search returns an interesting link []. I believe this was originally done by John Stossel and his orignal title can be found here [].

    From the site""Pandering to Fear: The Media's Crisis Mentality" Every day newspapers and television warns us of new, unsuspected dangers in our complex modern world--from Alar and asbestos to cyclamates to the Audi 5000 and the Suzuki Samurai. With the world apparently getting more dangerous all the time, we have to wonder how life expectancy keeps on growing. ABC's John Stossel will discuss what the real risks in modern life are, why the media seem to hype unrealistic fears, and why readers and viewers fall for it. "

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate the effort, but I appreciate and value the efforts of the original authors even more. Lest we forget Doris Kearns Goodwin and her misdeeds.
  • The media has always been market driven. Take a look at the late 19th century, when sensationalist stories (often outright lies) were used to sell papers to the public. It was called "Yellow Journalism" since it began to happen at the same time the first comic strip "The Yellow Kid" came out in the papers. It's often been said that the "Yellow Journalism" stories probably started the Spanish-American war of 1898, or at least they were a factor leading up to it. Competition in the media was strong then, and the media went to any length it could to get it's "Exclusive side of the story" to sell more papers and run the other paper out of business.

    I don't think anything has really changed. I suppose if we could dig into it, we'd probably find the media has always chosen to report what sells more papers or what titilates/scandalizes the public. Occasionally you find the truth in the papers, but often a great deal of important information is left out because the subject matter is so dry that even lies won't improve the story. So I'm not surprised that this is still going on, and I suspect it will continue to do so. The nice thing about today is that there are now so many alternate news sources so that one has the freedom to gather all the information and make their own educated guess on what is really important and what is just superficial fluff designed to sell papers.

  • If you honestly think that what you see on mass media is targetted at rich people, then you obviously know different wealthy people than I do. Mass media is targetted at people who wish they were wealthy. Time isn't printing articles about buffing up your summer cottage because millions of readers have summer cottages - they do it because millions of readers want summer cottages.
  • by Flakeloaf ( 321975 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:57PM (#3808772) Homepage
    Yup, because she's a cute little blonde-haired white girl whose parents have footage of her up on stage doing something cute a la Jon Benet Ramsay (q.v.)

    If, on the other hand, Smart were a homely little black girl with crooked teeth and a left eye that just kinda pointed out into space, a band of wandering perverts could abduct, violate and dismember her, and get only a small fine for littering when they disposed of the corpse.

    Kids go missing every day. The cute ones get press.
  • Go ask 1000 people who Al Capone is, then ask the same group who Kevin Mitnick is. For that matter, go ask 1000 people who Elizabeth Smart is, then Kevin Mitnick. The results won't even be close.

    The point that some "stories" get more coverage than they deserve is well taken, but shamelessly trying to tie in a tech angle to this is just stupid.
  • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @01:59PM (#3808794)
    First off, a big DUH to JK for another (sarcasm) insightful (/sarcasm) article. But what exactly does this mean:

    Profoundly pragmatic and opportunistic, they'd be happy to exploit blacks as well as whites, if the demographics worked. They don't cover Alexis Patterson's abduction because poor viewers in Milwaukee or elsewhere have nothing to do with ratings, ad revenue or profit margins. Blonde kids from wealthy families in Salt Lake City do.

    A quick search shows populations of these areas:
    Milwaukee, WI (city)
    Population (1990): 628088
    Per Capita Income (1995): $25,906

    Salt Lake City, UT (city)
    Population (1990): 159936
    Per Capita Income (1996): $19,995

    So what exactly is the point of comparing crimes in these cities? Milwaukee is poorer than Salt Lake City? Hmm. Demographics? Money? Race? What exactly is Jon saying here? Sadly, nobody (including him) knows. I found the above information in about 10 minutes on the net, I am sure a "professional" journalist could come up with some better facts to back up his opinion. What was that opinion again?

    • His point is that nationwide more white wealthy families with money to spend identify with the Smarts more than they do with the Pattersons. The concern for Alexis Patterson is only centered in Milwaukee because she is black, and people outside the Milwaukee area wouldn't care about her. (I believe this is what Katz is trying to say)

      Personally, I think the story of Elizabeth Smart's disappearence has at least something to do with the publicity it has received. Not many kidnappings occur with a definite witness (the sister) and in the home while the entire family is there.

      I agree with John Katz that media is made up of shallow whores with more bias in their story selection than their actual content.
  • Yeah, they're market driven, but you got the market wrong... The media market is selling eyeballs to advertisers. Delivering as many eyeballs as possible to their customers is very important, but also there is the fact that "the customer is always right". Ultimately, they are trying to please their corporate advertisers. And of course, one of the other raw materials is information from government officials -- piss them off and you have to find another source for information. So, given that you cur your investigative staff to save money, and you can't run stories that will piss off your sources or your customers, what do you do? You run flashy, sexy, crap. You get your eyeballs, your customers are happy, and you make lots of money.

    And that's what it's all about...

  • by gdyas ( 240438 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:08PM (#3808856) Homepage

    Jon has his head completely up his keester if he thinks Mencken was somehow a non-biased, non-sensationalistic journalist. Quite the opposite; it was his stances and deft, witty articulation of them based on fact as well as innuendo that made him a great journalist. Hell, it was the age of yellow journalism. Mencken, Winchell et al were always looking for any story that could make the most people plunk down a nickel and pick up a paper.

    Take the Scopes trial alone. Mencken, goes down to the south and turns a stupid little rigged case into a media feeding frenzy, makes it a battle between the theory of evolution and the forces of ignorance, when it was really nothing much to get jazzed about. Like the Smart kidnapping business the story was in the telling, not the facts themselves.

    Thus it has always been, thus it always shall be, and thank God for it. The news needs readers to survive and to get readers, like it or not, you have to entertain them in one way or another.

    It's an old saw, but if you don't like what's out there, don't watch. Turn off CNN & pick up the papers of your choice, which have overall had relatively little Smart coverage. If CNN lost even just 10% of its audience during times it was covering this thing it'd drop it like a bad habit -- it's the fact that the opposite occurs that keeps it on the air and that's our fault, not CNN's. It's your eyes that create the market, and advertisers are paying because YOU are watching & reading. That, Jon, is a good thing, not a bad thing, because it makes the responsibility for what's on the air ours, not AOL/Time Warner's. Stop paying attention to the crap and it'll die.

  • by MAXOMENOS ( 9802 ) <maxomai AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:10PM (#3808871) Homepage
    I realize that this is quasi-off-topic, but there's a local case that hasn't gotten much national press lately, and they could use some help. Two teenage girls disappeared from their Oregon City, OR area apartment complex earlier this year and haven't been found since. The FBI is investigating this as an abduction. If you have any information on Miranda Gaddis [] (FBI Site []) or Ashley Pond [] (FBI site []), please contact the FBI [] immediately. If you have seen either of them outside the United States, please contact the US Embassy [] in your country. There is a reward of $50k+ for information leading to the recovery of these girls.

    Just to make it on-topic: there was a flurry of media attention paid to these two girls back in May, but it seems to have died out in the wake of the Smart case. Perhaps no new clues means no new press attention.

  • Try to understand (what I believe) he is trying to say. The news media is NOT about news any more, it's entertainment. Have you seen the movie Network? THIS is where the news media is going. Though it's not as extreme as that movie (yet?) it is driven by revenue and revenue is driven by entertainment value. Even CNN has had a facelift in the past few weeks...just look at the "New" Connie Chung show!

    Personally, I see it this way...if a company wants to provide entertainment, that's fine....just don't (attempt to) pass it off as hard news. I believe that the big news orginizations do just that....pass off fluff as news, then whine when someone calls them on it. After all, they have "tradition"...RIGHT?

    I used to work for a TV station and something that a friend who worked in an ENG (mobile news) van said is most approriate here: "You're only as good as your last live shot". In other words:
    SCREW should be judged on what you're putting out opposed to the good stuff you did then....

    Also...consider this: If the public didn't tune in to this crap, they wouldn't be broadcasting it.
  • For the first two weeks I didn't really notice, then it occurred to me that I had not been annoyed by a Katz article in a while, then I started enjoying the peace and quiet. Then I thought of submitting an article speculating about the termination of his employment, but no, that would surely jinx it. I just enjoyed and wondered what had become of him.

    Well our soothing reprieve is over. Katz was silent [] from Jun 04, '02 12:15 PM to Jul 02, '02 01:15 PM. Nearly a month. Anyone care to hypothesize what he may have been doing during that time?

  • Has anyone heard the phrase "I took the Lindbergh baby?" []

    This phrase was immortalized on The Simpson's, among other places (Grandpa saying, "I am the Lindbergh baby" to distract the Feds.) Why is this phrase famous? Because the media of the time was saturated with the Lindbergh kidnapping.

    So.... when was H. L. Menkin writing agian?

  • jon katz? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by techstar25 ( 556988 ) <techstar25 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @02:22PM (#3808988) Journal
    So many people are just ripping into him because he's Jon Katz, that they are missing the point. You are here, reading slashdot because of the media issues he points out. By reading slashdot you are already agreeing with him. Why arent you reading right now? Because if it's not on slashdot, then we don't need to know. If Jon Katz can be accused of anything, it's that he's preaching to the choir. It's a nice article nonetheless. He raises some great points that have been bothering me lately. Poor little rich girl . . .
  • This should help drive the point home, 10 children in the last month are missing or have been abducted in the last month per The National Center for Missing or Exploited Children. 44 total are missing, including the runaways. I've only heard of the kid from Milwaukee and Salt Lake City, and nothing about the 5+ in my state that are listed.

  • It's because the familys surrounding the kidnapping are always "whities" :)
  • by Cheap Imitation ( 575717 ) on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @03:34PM (#3809643)
    It's easy to blame the media... because they're greedy folks just like people in every other money-making venture out there. Profits are their main goal. No one does it for the love anymore.

    But it's not their fault.

    It's our fault. They're in the business to make money. They do that by selling advertising. And the prices they get for selling advertising are determined by how many people are watching.

    If we didn't watch, they wouldn't feed us this garbage. All they're doing is feeding us what we want. They're giving us loads and loads of the stuff we wanna see. We apparently LIKE to watch about sex scandals, missing wealthy attractive children, and celebrity deaths. Because they boost the ratings. And ratings mean money for the news sources.

    If we want to change the media, it has to start with US. Don't like it? Don't WATCH it. Turn it off. If enough people do it, the ratings will suffer. The media will adapt, and feed us what we DO watch. Only when we reward responsible journalism, by watching it, will we get more of it.

  • Seeking out news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chris Canfield ( 548473 ) <`slashdot' `at' `'> on Tuesday July 02, 2002 @04:58PM (#3810371) Homepage
    I'm constantly amazed when I travel to foreign countries and find that real news and real journalism can be genuinely profitable. Why do we settle as a nation for magazines like "Time" when Mother Jones sits quietly on the shelf? Why do serious newsmagazines need to shlock around the latest Julia Roberts rumors to sell copies?

    This is as much about culture as it is about media. I have nothing against infotainment... I read Slashdot, after all. But that isn't the same thing as information. Yet any of the myriad of people who pick up, say, the Boston Herald every day think that they are getting their daily dose of vitamin I... They don't make the conscious realization that it is just a copy of People on cheap paper. If Americans had any cultural context and the desire to understand rather than be told they would have snapped up copies of any paper covering the assassination lists Presidente Fox is holding and the overhaul of the Russian criminal justice system set to take effect this week. But we don't, so we don't.

    There is nothing wrong with the periodicals mentioned in this piece... they just need to be seen in their proper light. Yelling at the previously core newssources just because they chose to sell avon instead of news won't solve the problem. Moving enmasse to reliable news sources will.

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