Sunday, July 26, 2009

Recycling: Open Letter to Media (Originally from January 2006)

So I’m driving to work this morning, and “The Bob and Tom Show” takes a commercial break. I flip through the stations, hoping to find some listening pleasure for the last few minutes of my commute. One station is delivering the news, something I try not to listen to anymore in the morning. Though it may render me ignorant as far as the ol’ water cooler is concerned, at least I won’t start my day in a total funk. I pause on this particular station, though, because something the newscaster says piques my interest. It’s some “feel good” piece of news. I’m not sure what it was to be honest, which doesn’t matter anyway. The bit I wanted to hear ends, though, and stupid me doesn’t change the station. Suddenly, I’m hearing how the police have been dragging some body of water in search of a little boy and his pregnant, 19-year-old babysitter who have been missing for a month. It’s too late to change the station. I’ve already heard too much. Sadly, though, it’s not only the news that bothers me. It’s the voice delivering the news. This woman is talking about the disappearance of these people like she’s narrating the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. You can hear her smiling.

"Ms. Parker and the boy were last seen on November 6t. And Bob, here comes the Garfield balloon! I just love that darn cat!"

I know people comment, complain and bitch about this frequently, but I should get my turn, too. I’ve been sitting on this for awhile.

While home for Christmas, a Memphis television anchor segued from a “Santa Watch 2005” update to “Elderly couple killed in fire” without missing a beat or changing his tone. And to top it off, this was how he chose to report this story:

"It won’t be a Merry Christmas for one family this year. An elderly Millington couple suffered a horrendous death this morning when a fire destroyed their home."

Yes, sir, we know it won’t be a Merry Christmas for the family who lost their loved ones. Thank you for confirming our suspicions. And I never realized that dying in a fire constitutes “horrendous death.” I needed that clarified, too. Now I can eat my figgy pudding in peace.

Seriously, fuck you.

But you know what possibly bothers me worse than the people who report tragedies with a smile? The ones who pretend to be so grave and serious. I saw it a lot after Hurricane Katrina. While I have to admit that there were several reporters who truly seemed affected by what they were seeing around them (Anderson Cooper and surprisingly Shepard Smith), many might as well have written “Gimme an Emmy” across their heads in permanent marker. It was nothing but a performance for them, a contest to see who could act the most devastated or horrified. I sat there waiting for violins to play in the background to play "Nearer My God to Thee."

Cut out the dramatic bullshit. Think about what you’re reading. Think about the people who are affected. These aren’t just words on a teleprompter. They represent lives. If you’re going to show emotion, make sure it’s appropriate. And real.

A family of four is killed by a drunk driver? Don’t talk about their “horrendous deaths” or “twisted bodies” (I’ve actually heard that one). Show some respect. Solemnity is called for, not theatrics.

A man admits to raping neighborhood children? You should be shot if you smile. At the very least, you should be locked in a room with him. Think about those children before you open your mouth. Hell, show some anger if you want. Make your viewers and listeners angry with you, not at you.

A community raises $500,000 for a cancer patient’s medical bills? NOW smile! Rejoice! Celebrate!

You’re reporting stories about people to people. Connect with your audience. Don’t be afraid to let a story affect you. You may be surprised at your ratings.

But no fake sympathy. No gruesome imagery.

Respect the dead. And those they leave behind.

The evening news is not a reality show. It’s reality. The least you can do is be real.

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