Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Solemn News Week

When celebrities and public figures pass away, it's difficult to hear, but this week is especially challenging for me.  In one week, public figures I grew up with, names that my families talked and gossiped about, are no longer here.  Ed McMahon, Farra Faucet, Michael Jackson.  I know these peoples' voices, I've danced to their music and I've watched their shows.  That is why I'm focusing in this entry on how various media cover death, and how we as media consumers digest the death.
Last summer I was interning in the FOX News Channel newsroom when Tim Russert passed away.  I witnessed how difficult it is verifying that a celebrity passed away.  I remember the wires chirping louder than ever as the news streamed in.  We got the news one hour before our show, and we understood that if it was true, if Tim Russert did suddenly pass away, this story was our entire show.  In one hour, I called every number online, scrambling to find someone in the media business who would speak about Tim Russert as a person and newsman.  It's difficult with such sort notice to create a program that does justice to such well-known and great public figures, but we did our best for the situation.  
It's difficult to watch these sudden, unexpected deaths of middle-aged people and hear voices on television, television pundits, talking about the celebrity's life, when they didn't even know the person as a person.  Immediately after the announcement that Michael Jackson died, CNN had political pundits talking about the famous entertainer - they knew him no better than I did.  Wolf Blitzer asked the one pundit if she met him. I expected her to say she knew him in some more intimate capacity, but she basically said she saw him as a girl after one of his concerts. 
 It's unfortunate that in the 24 hour news cycle, the reporters are left with average commentary to commemorate great lives.
I remember when Tim Russert passed away, we had one of our pundits, who usually talks about the court system, talk about his life.  She remembered seeing him at a dinner party, and said he was such a nice man at the party - hardly a good story to commemorate a great man's life.
What's the solution to this problem of having an average pundit speak about the life of a great entertainer?  It's sloppy journalism in my opinion.  If we want to recall their lives, let's wait and put together specials and proper stories with research, and family members; let's use the television to communicate the heartfelt messages that it can communicate.  
But, I get it - when someone dies in a 24 hour news cycle, the cycle has to be filled; just understand, television producers, you aren't covering "someone" dieing, you are chronicling the life of a person who on a large-scale changed something while they were here. 

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