Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Why is this news?

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 07, 1997

Posted to HotWired 7 Oct 97

First, I doubt that the Marv Albert story is that important to the average viewer. In the surveys I have seen, such 'celebrity trial' stories do not rank high on the list of reader or viewer concerns.

I believe that this story, and others similar to it, become important not because of a public demand for such news, but because of story selection decisions made in newspaper and television boardrooms.

But why would newspapers and the networks decide to focus on, say, Marv Albert, rather than, say, the ongoing Afghanistan conflict?

For one thing, it's a lot cheaper to stick a reporter and camera into a courtroom for a day than it is to send a crew to central Asia. In these days of cost-conscious news reporting, it makes sense to pick cheap stories, hype them, and to pas them off as news.

Second, stories about marv Albert are not the sort of stories that make waves. Most major news outlets are owned by large corporations. Stories about corruption, poverty, environment, and yes, war, make large corporations uncomfortable because of their complicity in all of the above. Stories about Marv Albert, on the other hand, do not afect, say, Procter and Gamble, at all.

Finally, and this was alluded to in Katz's article, the major news outlets have a moral and political message to sell. In my view, this message consists of conservative and family values, focussing on the straigh-and-narrow, and trivializing as 'kinky' any behaviour which deviates from that norm. Homogenization makes marketing easier and generates strings which advertisers to pull to stimulate demand. Sex sells, they say, but sex sells because sex is forbidden.

More interesting than the question of how the media covers Marv Albert is the question of why they cover it at all. As one who wishes to view the news, I am most concerned about the fact that what I am being sold is not news at all.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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