No old/new media divide for junk journalism

As millions wondered Thursday about the fate of Michael Jackson, a leading Web entrepreneur groused on Twitter about that darn mainstream media:

• “@latimescitydesk confirms TMZ report that Michael Jackson is dead. 30 minutes later CNN will not give TMZ credit. very odd.”

• “Why wouldn’t @CNN reference the reports from LATimes and TMZ that Jackson is dead? They could say ‘unconfirmed by CNN…’ “

To which another self-styled “technology evangelist” replied:

• “Old media arrogance. Simple as that. If they don’t report it, it’s not worth citing.”

And back to our entrepreneur, with his nose still out of joint:

• “finally, almost an hour later, CNN reports on CBS and LA Times reporting michael jackson dead–but no credit to TMZ.”

As it turns out, TMZ, a celebrity news site, did get this right. And first. But that’s beside the point.

TMZ's 24/7 coverage on MJ incudes live-streaming
TMZ's MJ coverage, with all the multimedia bells and whistles.

Consider what’s being discussed and argued about here. Giving credit where credit is due — about the death of a celebrity. No small celebrity, to be sure, but a celebrity whose tabloid life has long been the subject of morbid media fascination. From the celebrity as well as the mainstream press.

We have individuals on the new media vanguard, frequent commentators about the future of journalism, who in this instance (and many others) would rather kick old media in the pants for its supposed “arrogance” in not giving TMZ credit for a “scoop.”

The “old media” may not have gotten this story first, but who really cares? Is this the sort of story we want serious news organizations to hotly pursue in these times of newsroom layoffs, slimmed down news holes and shrinking aspirations for what they cover? I certainly hope not.

Neither do I think are there any “lessons” for breaking news to be drawn. And is “traditional media showbiz coverage” endangered? Yawn.

Fans and news cameras outside Michael Jackson's home, a common assembly after a celebrity death. (The Guardian)
Fans and news cameras outside Michael Jackson's home, a common assembly after a celebrity death. (The Guardian)

My indifference isn’t because because I loathe pop culture. But Michael Jackson hasn’t even undergone an autopsy and media wags are obliviously performing an inquest on a genre of journalism that has seriously devalued the profession for most of my time in it.

The same newspapers that in recent months and years have been gutting local arts, books and cultural coverage also have been wasting resources chasing down stupid celebrity and “fark” news for decades. CNN, chided a week ago for allegedly being slow to cover the Iranian protests, is now getting lectured for not giving props to a gossip blog with a reputation even in Hollywood for shaky factual accuracy.

Long before the primacy of the Web, there was the death of Elvis Presley in 1977, when I was in high school. Local television news outlets rushed to record stores (yes, we had vinyl back then, digikids!) to find an ample supply of blubbering middle-aged women clutching albums featuring the King. The weeping was ceaseless — this was the heart of the Deep South, too — and so the cameras rolled, and we were treated to this outpouring of grief for days, weeks and months. We were led to believe this was really important news. It crowded out everything else.

A Graceland candelight vigil 30 years after the death of Elvis. (BBC)
A Graceland candelight vigil 30 years after the death of Elvis. (BBC)

As the Web was hitting its early stride in the mid 1990s, we were subjected to the O.J. Simpson soap opera that in my estimation is when mainstream media credibility took its fateful post-modern nosedive. That was followed by the global sobfest over the tragic death of Princess Diana, who a decade later is still not allowed to rest in peace.

And now we have Michael Jackson, whose lifespan neatly coincides with the approximate time that the mainstream media has thrown itself on the altar of popular culture.

His death is noteworthy, and I’m not arguing against covering it. Pete Hamill has stated that he’s not against celebrity journalism but “it must be journalism.”

But what we’ve gotten instead, far more than any serious reporting that explains our obsession with celebrity worship, is the conscious pandering to empty souls who wait outside a hospital and speak of a departed pop star as if he were family.

With all due respect to the Tweeting individuals cited at the top, “old media” is far more out front in this regard than the digital savants imagine.

In other news, the entire staff of journalists at a newspaper owned by Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Moussavi has been arrested. Where is the perspective when it’s truly needed?

“We’re already saying, Neda who? Stick a fork in this protest movement. It’s feeling done. Sad how the trivial can change history.”


4 thoughts on “No old/new media divide for junk journalism

  1. Wendy, I agree but from a slightly different perspective.

    Those twitterers are being ninnies. Every news report I heard credited TMZ. It’s not unusual for one media source to wait for independent confirmation for other media sources. People that are making this into a big deal within the new/traditional media conversation are really picking at nits.

    And your description of the media coverage of the death of Elvis is priceless.


  2. Thanks for the clarification. As for the day Elvis died, those women really howled when they found out where he expired. Not very pretty, as I imagine Jackson’s circumstances will bear out.


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