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It Bleeds, It Leads, It Succeeds

By Ben L. Kaufman · October 4th, 2006 · Media, Myself & I
  Told you so: The Freedom Center wants a subsidy.
Matt Borgerding

Told you so: The Freedom Center wants a subsidy.

Assumption No. 1: The emphasis on local violence by local TV news erodes communal links and exaggerates our perception of danger.

Assumption No. 2: A reduced emphasis might allow us to put local violence in perspective, be less fearful and more reasoned in our demands for government action.

Quibble No. 1: There is no silver bullet that will stop young men from shooting each other by the score.

Quibble No. 2: Viewers addicted to sanitized violence might flee any de-emphasis and take TV ratings/revenue with them.

In short, fuhgedit.

The real reality is that violence is beautiful for local TV news. It's visual, cheap and easy to cover. Audiences and advertisers love it. Reporters require little local knowledge, experience or creativity: Show up, get some notes and quotes and do a standup.

Its beauty is matched only by a hurricane for cable TV news execs. Hence, the industry dogma, "If it bleeds, it leads" newscasts.

The irony is that we rarely see violence. Instead we get crime scene tape and an earnest/disgusted reporter backlighted by emergency lights. If it's a particularly nasty traffic smashup, we see wrecked vehicles, flashing emergency lights, etc. Toss in a winsome or pathetic kid, whether missing or dead, and you have everything.

We don't see blood pooled like fresh beef liver on the pavement, dead bodies or wounded or injured survivors.

We're titillated without being so shocked that we switch channels.

Providing a bodyguard for the mayor and armoring city council chambers against the rest of us sends a similar and sadly silly message: See Cincinnati and die. For most of us, avoiding corner sex and drug markets is enough to avoid getting shot.

This TV news preoccupation feeds a perception of personal danger that far exceeds the risks of living, working and playing in Cincinnati, and it undermines waning confidence in the viability of our urban core.

TV doesn't make this stuff up. Cops alone can't stop people from killing, and on rare occasion a bystander is killed. Even rarer is the murder of someone like Phil Bates, shot by someone he encountered outside his home at night.

I am not asking TV to ignore violence or to suppress homicide rates but to reconsider whether each shooting is the most important story they could have covered that day.

However, attempts elsewhere to shift to longer, more thoughtful stories of local importance often failed to hold or gain viewers. Viewers switched in search of their vicarious kicks.

So, here's our bind. Can we reasonably ask local TV news to de-emphasize local violence in hopes of repairing communal ties and confidence even though it might reduce audiences and income available for covering local news?

· · ·

Curmudgeon notes
· Letters to Cincinnati dailies often come from Cleves, Fairfield, Pierce Township, Milford, Colerain, Fort Thomas, etc. Yet they speak about "our city" and mean Cincinnati. Geographical laxity apart, the perception that Cincinnati is a violent place to be fled or shunned affects hundreds of thousands who live beyond city limits.

· No one who reads this column can be surprised that the ill-conceived, poorly designed and under-financed National Underground Railroad Freedom Center finally says it needs a subsidy from Cincinnati taxpayers.

· Why did it take The New York Times to find the coincidence of Ohio Supreme Court justices' votes and their major contributors?

· Cleveland Scene's Denise Grollmus wrote about staff cuts at once-proud Akron Beacon Journal. Other measures failed, she wrote, "So the Beacon opted for that most medieval of remedies. It bled itself." She needn't add what we know to be the fate of those patients or that it's a pattern throughout the industry as owners dump journalists in their search for higher profits.

· It says everything about the irrelevance of commercial TV network news presenters that Katie Couric's ascendance was covered mainly in celeb magazines ... until CBS manipulated a pudgy picture of her to give her the slim celeb Size 0 look. That was news. Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And that's the way it is.

· Loraine E. Braun submitted the winner for the latest Little Gem News Service (LGNS) challenge to write a story that takes off from the CiN Weekly headline, "Smelling like a butt is never a good thing." Here's her entry:

CINCINNATI (LGNS) -- Yesterday, lunch hour shoppers at the We're on the Scent store downtown were caught up in a brief, yet heated political protest when members of the group No Butts About Us stormed into the boutique protesting the launch of the new cologne, Smokin.

Bystander Virginia Slimm remarked, "While I don't know why anyone would want to smell like a cigarette, it's just a cologne."

According to No Butts About Us, Smokin doesn't pass their smell test.

"This could be as bad, if not worse, than secondhand smoke from a real cigarette, the way some women drench themselves in cologne," fumed the group's leader, Anita Light.

The bewildered and angry owner of the boutique said, "That group's leader made a total 'ash' of herself. Smokin isn't even a cigarette-scented cologne. It is the scent of a country ham! Last time I checked, this was a free country, and ladies have the right to smell like a butt if they want to."

Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.


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