You’re a cable news reporter. You have an ugly choice.
If you just run the news as normal, then you miss out on ratings. Because if you bring it up at the top of every twenty minutes, like normal news cycles, then you look out of touch. This is the biggest news! People are shocked by it, hungry for information! If you don’t have it up every five minutes, then people risk turning away as you go to the usual political stories.
So you have to keep rolling it, infinitely. The same news. Over and over, because your new viewers haven’t heard about it yet and they need to – because with a story this big, they’ll stay tuned to find the details.
Except you don’t have details. You don’t know shit, it’s hardly been eight hours since this happened. So you keep repeating the same details over and over again, a mantra of terror, in an attempt to fill air space. Repetition isn’t going to keep people tuned in, so what do you need to fill these gaps? Speculation! So to keep people hooked on the line, you bring in talking heads to discuss what might have happened, people to debate what this means, folks who will tell you what this means for the upcoming election. It’s not news, but your goal here is not news. It’s ratings.
It's ratings. Ratings determine how much the stations can charge for ads. Ratings are money, and money is everything. Not news, not facts, not the "truth" (whatever that is). Money is everything.
As I noted over four years ago, Orson Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast revealed how people in a panic keep listening, even when details are sketchy and completely far-fetched. Robert Krulwich noted:
The War of the Worlds . . . was so good at grabbing an audience and sucking them in, that the Welles formula, you might call it, the newscast that scares you enough to keep you listening has been adopted by, of all folks, news companies. . . . So many newscasts tease you with things that aren't quite true . . . . Even if the headline is slightly preposterous, even if it is slightly scary, even if it is slightly false, we will listen.
The man he interviewed, Jason Loviglio, agreed:
The fear that these broadcasts generate now suck us in. . . . You'd think that 70 years later, we'd be more sophisticated and critical when the local newscaster tells us that there's something we're feeding our children that could kill them and they'll tell us after the news, I still listen. . . . I'm a media critic, and I still wait through the commercials to see what is it that I'm doing to kill my child. . . . Somehow, it gets me every time. (Emphasis mine.)
I still wait through the commercials. Cable and other news has embraced a technique that caused panic enough to take lives–in the case of various War of the Worlds broadcasts at least three times–simply to keep people watching the ads, rather than delay reporting and to wait for details to emerge.
Because money is everything, and fear can be used not just to get it, but to keep it coming. And the result? A growing number of people (like myself) have simply given up on the broadcast news altogether. Yet we continue to breath and walk upright without assistance. Yes, folks, you, too, can abandon the Money Is Everything paradigm and live to tell the tale.
/rant . . . for now.