Consider the Source

  • July 25, 2012
  • Fran Stephenson
  • 3 min read

Microphones in a RowA disturbing media trend emerging the past few years really came to light for me last week while scanning the morning news programs: media interviewing other media. I’ve noticed it on two occasions: celebrity news and breaking news.  Here are two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Celebrity News

Celebrity A is divorcing Celebrity B.

The news coverage includes B roll of celebrity A emerging from a night club and Celebrity B leaving a hotel or restaurant.  The story also includes file footage of the couple – together—in happier times as well as clips from their last hit record, blockbuster movie or product release. But what the news team really wants is the celebrities talking about the break-up, which celebrities almost NEVER do. Not if they have a good PR team and legal team.  So, when the editor is screaming, “Get me someone, anyone, who can talk about the divorce” what’s a reporter to do? Call in the editor of a celebrity magazine who may have the inside scoop on how the relationship unraveled.

Scenario 2: Breaking News

Tragedy Strikes and All Hands Are On Deck

A horrible tragedy occurs and news organizations are interrupting regular programs to cover it. Every news organization wants to offer in-depth coverage by going beyond the basics of what just happened. So they start to develop sidebar stories to fill in the time already allotted to enhanced news coverage while they are waiting for a development, press conference or official information.  They might develop profiles on people, location or work the angle on the economic impact.  This buys them time and makes it appear as if they are advancing the story.  Another solution is to compare and contrast this tragedy to others.

Why Do the Media Do This?

First, it’s a question of access. There are only so many good spokespersons to go around, so if another network or newspaper gets hold of them first, you are stuck.

A second issue is expertise. There are fewer beat reporters on the job today and general assignment reporters have less in-depth knowledge to cover a story beyond the basics.

The last issue is vanity.  It’s pretty easy to fill time by calling your friend who edits the celebrity publication and get them to agree to an interview.

Why This Practice Should Stop

Media outlets using this practice are highlighting sources and information that should serve as background. The celebrity publication editor and industry watcher are being elevated to primary sources of information, which they are not.  Viewers are seduced into thinking the source is important because they have a slot on national television.

So the next time you’re watching the morning news, pay attention to who is being interviewed and consider the source. It may not be as credible as it seems.

That’s what’s on my mind today.