prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Disaster du jour and Limited Attention Spans

Posted by prof e on March 17, 2014

carjackLast week I was late for work because I was watching a live, high-speed car chase near Denver. The driver had car-jacked a vehicle which, unfortunately, had a 4-year-old in the back seat. At times going the wrong way on the interstate, the suspect was involved in several accidents and car-jacked two more cars before being captured by police. You can see the highlights here.

In the end nobody was hurt, but at any point in time it could have turned into a disaster. It can be hard to look away from real life as it is imploding. Maybe it is the novelty that comes from the possibility that you’ll see something that has slipped by the gate-keepers and editors.

Live television and breaking news can be a powerful combination. Watching events unfold and listening to reporters and anchors search for words to describe the indescribable is unscripted TV at its best and worst. The best is the energy and excitement that comes with the immediacy and urgency of the dramatic pictures and sounds. The worst is the exploitation of disaster and mayhem for ratings.

According to some, the recent wall-to-wall coverage of the missing airliner, Malaysia Flight 370, is another case of media exploitation. While reporting has given way to speculation by a long line of experts and analysts, audience members continue to flock to their TVs to watch the story unfold one drop at a time. The New York Times is reporting that the story has led to exceptional ratings for CNN. But CNN’s coverage has not been without its critics. The Times reported that “comedian Bill Maher, referring to the CNN founder, posted on Twitter: ‘Ted Turner wishes he was dead so he cld roll over in his grave.'”

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the coverage of Flight 370 has distracted us from paying attention to Russia’s play for the Ukraine…which was a distraction from the atrocities in Syria…which became the topic of attention after we grew bored with the uprising in Egypt…which…well, you know.

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