Thursday, December 20, 2012

Fish, Relatives and the News Media in Newtown

            There’s a wonderful old Swedish wife’s tale saying that fish and relatives begin to smell after being around for five days.  We can now say that the same is true of the news media in Newtown, now well beyond five days.  It’s time to extinguish the broken, blinking “Breaking News” signs; time to pack up, bail out, and allow the town to grieve on its own.
            The coverage began with the bizarre guesswork phase, which happens in all mass tragedies.  Most every early tidbit vehemently stated as “fact” had to be withdrawn or disowned in the first 48 hours.  On Saturday, the day following the murders, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had conflicting front page headlines with respect to the number of victims. 
           Then comes the predictable solution-finding phase where any real information continues to blur as swarms of consultants, so called “experts” and visibility-seekers buzz like flies on old fish around the location, the news studios, and the town before knowing anything reliable about the underlying circumstances.
            We’ve now entered the even more bizarre mass fabrication stage where the vacuum of information, which often happens in criminal investigations, is rapidly filled by program after program, interview after interview of people over analyzing and making things up when very little new information about what’s really going on actually exists. Yet, just like your relatives, they fill the airwaves and newspapers with extraordinary amounts of conflicting, irrelevant, and excessive amounts of useless content and just won’t go away.
            Some of the fabricated stories erroneously involved Autism Spectrum Disorder, or profiling the mentally ill.  These are powerful, emotional spears of pain and fear carelessly and callously tossed through America’s heart.  To date, there is no apology, no recognition of the extraordinary pain these mistakes have caused millions of American families.
            The New York Times on Monday ran a nearly full size illustration of the semi-automatic rifle used in the murders.  The illustration was annotated with detailed instructions and information about the gun, presented almost exuberantly.  What on earth is this doing in the newspaper?  Who needs to know this information?
            Yes, a national debate on guns has been re-ignited.  As usual, the winner of that discussion remains to be seen.  Will it be the people of America or the National Rifle Association?  One hopes against hope that our central government can demonstrate that there are times when they must act in our interests rather then protecting those of special interests. 
            Now it is time to toss out the fish, say goodbye to the relatives, and herd the media out of town. Time to go, Greta.  Time to pack it in, Wolf, and let the town have its self back again so real recovery can begin.
            Some kind of extraordinary panel of journalism experts and the public should examine just how events of this magnitude should be covered.  Perhaps some guidelines need to be developed and shared with the public that  demonstrate the kind of reporting, which most of us want the media to accomplish, and how to demonstrate some sense of restraint and consideration for the victims and survivors. 
            The public really has no clue about how aggressive, abusive and coercive producers, editors and reporters can be in the struggle to get something said or to say themselves during these mega story circumstances.  This feeding frenzy needs to be disclosed, discussed and explained as well.
            This story has clearly touched the soul of our nation.  That, in today’s America, is an extraordinary accomplishment.  Now it’s time to back off and let the system and society absorb all of this stuff, sort it out, and let someone, not driven by screaming daily headlines begin to really determine what the next steps ought to be.

-- James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
By James E. Lukaszewski

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

The Lukaszewski Group 550 Main Street, Suite 100, New Brighton, MN 55112 U.S.A.
651.286.6788-Office 651.631.2561-Facsimile 203.948.7029-24/7
Carin M. Leonard-Gorrill, Executive Assistant Office 651-286-6729

Copyright ©, James E. Lukaszewski. All rights reserved.
Permission to print one copy for personal use is hereby granted by the copyright holder.
Reproduction of additional copies without written permission of the copyright holder is strictly prohibited.