Disaster is the crack cocaine of broadcast journalism

As could be predicted, the broadcast media went on a pure feeding frenzy after the horrific Minneapolis bridge collapse. 806_image_3

The disaster was dissected and deconstructed time and time again. Eyewitnesses, experts and anyone else who could walk and chew gum were interviewed and asked what they saw, thought and felt. Sidebar stories showed local bridges that, like the one in Minneapolis, had structural defaults.

Intrepid reporters strapped themselves into crash simulators and walked us through best practices for escaping a submerged vehicle.

I’d list all of the above as sound, responsible journalism. Where the media beast went over the line, though, was in the showing and re-showing of the bridge collapse itself. I wish I had a dollar for every viewing.

Spectacular calamities have become the crack cocaine of TV news coverage. How many times have we seen JFK and Jackie hanging a left-hand turn into Dealey Plaza? Or, how about the Challenger hurtling skyward until it explodes into a thousand pieces? And, of course, the Twin Towers come crashing down each and every time Al Qaeda issues a new warning.

It’s all about the ratings and, sadly, shock sells. So, the media continues to cross the line and show too much negativity too many times. The end result is that, like JFK, the Challenger and the Twin Towers before it, the images of the Minnesota bridge collapsing into the Mississippi River are now seared into our collective memory banks. And, to what end?

3 thoughts on “Disaster is the crack cocaine of broadcast journalism

  1. Sadly you have nailed it. Remember that exclusive CNN camera phone video of the Virginia Tech shootings that kept playing over and over? Or how about the Cho manifesto that graced just about every front page, above the fold, in full color?
    As an aspiring journalist the thought of covering a disaster makes me sick. I think I would last a minute or two before I would throw down my mic and go help. I remember Fox News correspondent Shepard Smith interviewing victims coming out of the flooded ninth ward. “What are you feeling right now?” he was asking. “Uh…well I feel like sh*t, my house is gone, my buddy’s dead, my mom is missing and I haven’t got any water…so can I fly off this bridge with you when you go back to the studio tonight?” I could only hope someone would say.
    Keep up the good posts Steve.

  2. I like the headline, but what would the lead be if a blizzard were about to hit!?!
    If it bleeds, it leads. We’ll just have to live with it!
    (Plus, this “crack coccaine” does allow for some good fodder for crisis communications sales pitching, right?)

  3. And I don’t think I can take seeing Jake Brown crashing onto the half pipe at the X Games one more time!