EDITORíS DESK: Tragedy and the media
It's one of the sad truths of the news business that its biggest industry is tragedy.
Editors I've known who would openly yawn at a reporter's revelations (as in this issue of the Westside Pioneer) about successful efforts by small businesses or that a left-turn lane is to be extended would transform to wild-eyed excitement upon hearing about a flood, a murder, a fire, a multi-car accident, anything with the potential for horrific headlines.
True story: When I was a copy boy some years back at the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner (which then published several times a day), the city editor became increasingly agitated about a prominent foreign prince who was on his deathbed. As his deadline approached and the prince lingered, the editor fumed, "Why can't he just die?"
The official line is that the public loves the bizarre and the awful, so the only reason the media overdoes that sort of coverage is to make its readers happy. I suppose that's true, to a point. But I sometimes wonder if the news business itself doesn't attract the kind of people who lean that way themselves, wired with a magnetic attraction to anything ghastly.
There's even money in it. Some ambitious writers have made their careers based on their ability to jerk tears from people's pain.
This is all a long lead-in to our report on the terrible Chesham Circle fire Jan. 17. Maybe it's because I feel like a citizen first these days, rather than a journalist. I know I would far rather have seen good samaritan Beth Bidwell's concrete front walkway clean and boring like before, instead of mapped with bloody footprints. Yes, we made the story prominent, so I suppose this sounds like the pot calling the kettle black. But we put the donation info in a prominent place for a reason. This is our chance to shine as a community. Helping the victims may make some editors yawn, but in the end, at least to me, that's the part of the story that's truly the most newsworthy.