Thursday, April 19, 2007

What else but VT?

I actually tried to find something else to write about this week since so many people covered this one, but really, there was nothing. So I'll give my two cents about what I thought was, by and large, a banner week for the news media.

Unlike Anna Nicole Smith or Imus, I thought this week's reporting wasn't over the top. I tend to be on the short-attention-span side of the news, which is to say that I hate when news agencies overcover stories, and I usually like them to move on pretty quickly. But unlike some other posters on here, I haven't grown tired of this story yet.

I think there are two key reasons I've been riveted by the coverage. One is that, unlike most stories that cable news covers, there have actually been some new developments. Despite a few lapses -- there were a few of times where the witnesses they found weren't very good or had nothing to add, or the stations were going to their correspondents simply because they could but they had little of substance to contribute-- I think we've been given a lot of news.

Indeed, from the initial coverage of the shooting and the events of the morning, to details about the carnage, to reporting the stories and names of the dead, to coverage of the vigil, to revealing to the name of the killer, to reporting the story of how the killer bought the guns, TV news packed a lot into a couple days. (By contrast, on the day Smith passed away, Jack Cafferty on CNN asked Wolf Blitzer "Is Anna Nicole still dead, Wolf?," displaying his feelings that the network had spent way too much time talking about a whole bunch of nothing.)

The consistent news value of this story has only been further heightened over the last 24 or so hours, with the delivery of the package to NBC and our subsequent view into the killer's mind. (And by the way, I am unequivocal in my belief they were correct to air his rants, and am disappointed that they now say they will pull back.) The fact that there have been so many new developments has definitely made this coverage worth the airtime it has received. (On a related note, Alberto Gonzalez seems to have gotten really lucky that almost everybody has stopped paying attention to him; meanwhile, Don Imus happened to get terribly unlucky that his comments had played themselves out before this story broke.)

The other reason I haven't been annoyed by this coverage is that, unlike the two recent media frenzies surrounding Anna Nicole and Imus, there has actually been discussion of a substantive nature. It hasn't just been all surface content, with no meat on the bones of the story. The anchors and reporters have talked about gun control, mental health issues, how the shooting might affect the presidential race in 2008, the VT officials' response to the initial shooting, and tons of other topics that go beyond the simple act. Sure, they have emphasized the fact that this was the "deadliest shooting in American history" about 1,000 times, but other than that, I think the discussion has branched off into interesting and significant issues that lie underneath the story. Broadcast journalists should be commended for that, and for not taking the easy way out in a medium where style-only and skimming the surface reporting are all too common.

One quick thing I didn't like about the coverage was how the networks sent their anchors there right away. Did Brian Williams and Katie Couric really need to be in Virgina to report on this story? I know anchors like to feel like real journalists and get out there and report, but their presence seems unnecessary and some of their reporting has been quite clunky. Also, it seems very opportunistic, as though the first thought of the producers after the tragedy was "How quickly can we get our anchors on a plane and get them down there?"

I think we would have been better served by having our anchors in New York talking to correspondents on the scene. That also would have perhaps helped the nightly news cover the other stories floating around (for instance, did you know that 183 people were killed in Iraq on Wednesday? It seems as if journalists still use that old chart where it takes 10 foreign deaths to equal one over here.) I applaud ABC and Charles Gibson for sticking in New York, although I'm disappointed they felt the need to give in to the tide and head down to Blacksburg on Tuesday. But still, maybe the fact ABC showed just one day of restraint is indicative of why the network is gaining in the news ratings.


At Thursday, April 19, 2007, Blogger HAW said...

Props to ABC. ABC has always been my network of choice and I'm consistently impressed with their work. I think their coverage of the VT story was the least sensational and most comprehensive. Way to go!

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