Monday, November 22, 2004

Does Old Media Exaggerate its Role?

This morning I happened to be listening to a couple annoying radio personalities on a local talk station. The news anchor of a local tv news program called up to gently criticize them for the way they reported on the shooting yesterday. He felt they were out of line to report every single rumor they'd heard, including the rumors that as many as twelve hunters were dead or missing, that the shooter was riding around in the woods on an ATV, picking off hunters at random, or that there was a connection to houses that had been shot at some weeks earlier.

The radio guys criticized him for holding off on reporting anything until they had their facts straight. Their view was that the tv station should have run a crawl or something informing people that something was happening, even if they didn't know all the details.

It was interesting listening to the exchange. The radio guys got a little hot-tempered, too. But what struck me was their attitudes about their roles. There was a strong feeling from the radio guys that they would be letting down the community if they didn't report something--even rumors--and that if they held off (as the tv station did) then they would be criticized for not letting people know that "something" was happening.

I should explain that about five hours passed from the time of the killings to the time when the shooter was taken into custody. During that time, hunters who were in the area tried to gather up all members of their groups, because all they knew was that someone who'd just killed 5 people was still out in the woods somewhere. Meanwhile, locals were advised to stay inside and lock their doors, over concern that the shooter might try to get into someone's house.

But I thought maybe the local radio and television stations were slightly exaggerating the role they play in the region. My first instinct when I heard what was happening was to go online and check out news sites. Friends tell me of people in the area of the shooting staying glued to their police scanners--getting the news right from the source. Later in the evening on a drive to the store, I did take one quick trip across the radio dial, but didn't hear anything. I didn't turn on the television until it was time for the 10 o'clock news.

But it would never occur to me to criticize a local radio or television station for not giving me immediate news gratification (except in the case of severe weather). If they weren't currently reporting on a incident I wanted more information about, I would simply look elsewhere. Last night, the internet was where I went first. I doubt I was alone. But as a news consumer, I wouldn't think to call a local station and complain that they didn't give me what I wanted. Why bother? With the new media revolution we can just look around for other options.


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