Wednesday, December 21, 2005

News and Genre

Newspapers have genres (e.g., student, entertainment, state fair, socialist) and journalism has genres (not just food, entertainment, and op-ed, but also things like reportage, analysis, and punditry). Soon, though cable news may be developing its own system of genre as codified, well-worn, and viewer-driven as anything in broadcast television drama.

The latest? Planes in trouble, says Reuters. They're the new high-speed car chase.

Northwestern University Professor of Journalism George Harmon writes: "My personal theory is that some stories on TV beget similar stories: Shark attacks, wildfires and missing blond girls ... the format has been established."

The twin keys to emerging news genres seems to be 1) similarity to other preexisting dramatic genres (soap operas, cop shows, movies about war/politics) and 2) the photo- or videogenic quality of the story. In other words, TV news likes stories that make good television.

One speculative point I'd like to raise, aside from just demonizing the degradation of television news, etc.: I wonder whether we're moving away from a culture of the media event (coronations, funerals, weddings, and other rituals; the Moon Landing; one-off scripted live events, like the Academy Awards; sports championships) and more deeply into a culture of unscripted but serial media (political scandals, murder investigation and trials, Terry Schiavo). This might say something not just about changes in the way we digest news and politics, but also in how we treat media as such, and the interaction between this and our changing lives and mediascape. But I'm not entirely sure.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

After seeing Good Night and Good Luck a couple weeks ago, I've been thinking a lot about what the 24-hour news cycle does to stories of significance.

In the days of Murrow, it was an impressive effort to sufficiently cover any given story. The difficulty of obtaining footage, doing the ground work of research, combined with limited resources provided a natural vetting process. The organization had to be selective.

With today's flow of information, relatively insignificant news stories will be aired continually because they may have great footage that is easily available. Especially for cable news, there's more than enough to fill air time without having to devote time to actual reporting.

On WDIV in Detroit last night was a story about a 5 month old girl who had apparently been put (or "thrown" depending on the copy the reporter was reading) into a tub of scalding water by her 18 year old sister. 911 was called, and after paramedics arrived on the scene, the 18 year old was discovered in another room, having slit her wrists.

The reporter was in front of the hospital giving these details as the two were being treated. Still, there was no information as to what any of the circumstances were: accident, crime, etc. The story was incomplete, seemed a violation of a family's privacy, and was only on the air because they had the ability to broadcast it as "breaking news."

Seems to me those were a good five minutes that could have been spent
interviewing executives at GM on Toyota's impending emergence as the world's #1 automaker.

Or talking with constitutional scholars about the ramifications of a president violating federal law.

The over the top tactics of local news stations and the "must show this every thirty seconds" attitude of cable are both things that make me run for the solace of the internet and NPR.