Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Latest Thing

Ever since I can remember, the mainstream media have swarmed from story to story, pouncing on the latest thing everyone else is covering. The always-entertaining Rush Limbaugh dubbed it the "Drive By Media". As Lin Wood said:

It's quiet now, but don't be fooled – another media frenzy is just around the corner. It may take a few weeks or a few months — or maybe just the next slow news cycle — but it will happen again just as it has happened in the past.
But what takes a simple story into a full-on media frenzy? It occurred to me during my vast and detailed research into this topic (means: googling for over a minute) that a new story starts with a comment somewhere, either in the media or on some blog. If it gets any traction, it "has legs", and then can be called a "scandal", a "dust-up", or a "controversy". Sometimes, there can be a dust-up over a story about a scandal.

But what makes everyone pounce on it? What makes a mere "storm of controversy" into the dominant topic for some period of time? I think it happens because reporters want to be relevant, and putting out a story that doesn't go anywhere is seen as irrelevant.

Now, it should also be noted that a story can develop into a "meme" or a "-gate", depending on if it's a myth that fits the dominant media agenda, or a scandal that fits the dominant media agenda. Some stories, such as 9/11 or the 2000 presidential election debacle, have actual business being on the front page for as long as they are.

Let's see if we can list them in order of hysteria:
  1. Story
  2. Dust-up
  3. Scandal
  4. Controversy
  5. Tempest in a teapot
  6. Debacle
  7. Kerfuffle
  8. Circus
  9. Storm of controversy
  10. Firestorm of controversy
  11. Frenzy

JonBenet Ramsey - frenzy
OJ Simpson - frenzy
Valerie Plame Wilson and IV - frenzy
Katrina - frenzy
Dubai Ports World - mere firestorm of controversy

Speaking of Katrina and DPW: the frenzy over Katrina was still nipping away when a media critic or Administration official, I can't remember or find which, asked a reporter on a Sunday talking head show why Katrina was getting such coverage and sucking the air out of everything else. What about the story of Middle Easterners "owning ports" - what about that?

The embarrassed reporter didn't know anything about it. Soon, that story was sucking the air out of every other, including Katrina.

Reporters want to be relevant. I, on the other hand, relish my irrelevancy, since this gig pays the same either way. Maybe I should get a PayPal link or something, so I could join the latest relevancy circus .. or maybe it will just be a kerfuffle that doesn't rise to the level of a circus.

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