I learned the media credo, “If it bleeds it leads,” more than 30 years ago as a reporter/anchor at an all-news radio station in Miami. I was co-anchoring one day with a veteran radio guy when a plane crashed in Miami. The wire services kept updating the number of deaths and as the death toll increased, my co-anchor kept gleefully telling me, “Our story’s getting bigger.” It took me a while to understand that as an all-news station with a ballooning story, we would have more listeners tuning in…or tuning in longer.
The irony is that over the years nothing much has changed. I’m not exactly blaming the media. As a former local and network correspondent (and now a PR veteran), I know a thing or two about hyping a story. I honestly believe the media give their audiences what they’re looking for…though they maybe extend the story a bit too long. It’s like a train wreck. You can’t look away.
So that’s the reason for OJ, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, DSK, Trayvon and all the sordid, bloody, unsavory stories that have taken on a life of their own.
The Trayvon story is interesting. A neighborhood “hood” becomes Mr. Crime Fighter when he takes down a kid in a hoodie with some Skittles. First, I’m amazed that anyone thinks wearing a hoodie is threatening. Check out any high school or college campus and the majority of kids are wearing hoodies and flip flops. I think I even have some in my closet and used to call them hooded sweatshirts (that’s a whole other story).
It’s a fact. Breaking news is generally bad news. Earthquakes, famine in Africa, cholera, serial killings, prostitute rings, plane crashes, blood and guts. I pick up the New York Times these days, read the front page and cringe from the barrage of Earth-shattering stories. And if it isn’t hard news, it’s endless news about the Kardashians or some A-list actor off to rehab…again.
Good news just doesn’t make it as a headline. So, I applaud news pros like Brian Williams for putting at least one positive story in his nightly newscast and for hiring Chelsea Clinton for the “Making a Difference” series. Hope that begins to really make a difference and we can kick off the news with heart instead of blood.