When we media train corporate executives, we warn them of the media’s fondness for bad news by repeating the oft-used expression, "If it bleeds, it leads."
Clearly, this is the case with breaking news as well as anniversaries of horrific events. Witness last weekend’s never-ending cavalcade of Challenger disaster footage to mark the 20th anniversary of that horrific event.
Time and again, we watch the ill-fated space shuttle hurtle upwards en route to its appointment with destiny. And, time and time again, we hear about the brittle O-rings, NASA’s rush to launch despite the frigid temperatures that day and, of course, the tear-jerking fate of astronaut-teacher Christa McAuliffe.
Surely, there is a more respectful and professional way in which to honor the memories of the fallen astronauts. Must we see the explosion every hour of every day of the weekend? Sadly, my question is a rhetorical one. Because, sadly, there is no one person or institution in this land to hold the media accountable for overstepping the bounds of decency. We must, instead, rely on the media to police themselves.
In an era when corporations own the major media outlets and entertainment trumps hard news, we’re seeing an increase of tabloid sleaze from the once-proud news networks. The milking of the 20-year-old Challneger calamity is a great example of this trend.
What would the late, legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow think of this weekend’s Challenger clips? I like to think he’d use a variation of his signature sign-off and sigh, "Good night and good luck…to the future of broadcast journalism.