TV Reality News keeps us in the dark


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Is there a difference between Reality TV and TV Reality News?

There isn’t. At least not anymore. Michael Jackson. Casey Anthony. Trayvon Martin. The Royal Baby. These are just a small sampling of names that dominated the news recently and during last few years. If news is what people are talking about, then these all qualify as news stories. But do they qualify as topics to be covered around the clock at the expense of critically important stories going uncovered?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines news this way:
a. a report of recent events.
b. previously unknown information.
c. something having a specified influence or effect.

Where is news defined as cable anchors and so-called experts feeding off every nugget of information — substantiated or not — to create news? This is TV Reality News in action. Blab. Blab. Blab. It’s bad enough that so many watch the same video clips, hear the same sound bites and engage predictable talking head spin over and over, but while media outlets pour their resources down one drain at a time, who’s minding the rest of the store?

This ugly trend matured during the O.J. Simpson trial and has since spun out of control. Last May, a Limo carrying a party of nine women burst into flames over the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge. For days, the story dominated the news. Five dead and four injured was big news. But while America was preoccupied by the bachelorette and her friends’ tragic plight, a critically important story went woefully under-reported: “UN accused Syrian rebels of carrying out sarin gas attacks which had been blamed on Assad’s troops.”

Back in the spring and summer of 2011, the U.S. media obsessed over the trial of Casey Anthony. And this came after years of covering the disappearance of Casey’s daughter, Caylee, in 2008. The outrage was palpable. But at that same time members of a “local, state and federal task force” burst into the wrong house looking for someone who hadn’t lived there for years and terrorized an innocent family. Where was the outrage then? Do you even remember that story?

The George Zimmerman trial verdict stirred outrage across the country, and well across the globe, too.  In fact, the obsession over this story secured its place in media over-exposure history when it became the first story this year to claim “more [media] coverage in a single week than the presidential campaign.” On top of that, about a third of Americans were closely following the plight of Trayvon Martin and the court proceedings against Zimmerman.

While the nation obsessed with the trial and its aftermath, the IRS scandal, Edward Snowden’s escape to Russia, Egypt’s disintegrating government and many other critically important stories all but fell off the radar. It happens over and over. Sustained coverage stirs outrage. No sustained coverage, no outrage. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s how the Trends Research Institute defines TV Reality News:
a. an obsession with a single event driven by an insatiable appetite to drive revenue by overselling controversy.
b. repeatedly talking about what is already known or about what little we do know.
c. manufacturing effects on people’s lives with the specific aim to build audience.

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