News Candy for the Ears
By Clarence Page
If television is chewing gun for the eyes, as an old saying goes, the
The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared with 239 people on board, far exceeds the facts available to explain it. That puts 24/7 cable TV news broadcasters in a bit of a pickle. The public is hungry for more news than news providers have available.
The remedy? News candy. When news anchors and reporters don't know what's happened, they bring in panels of experts and outsiders to speculate about what might have happened.
But how much of this balderdash is too much? How much can a news operation cover a disaster before it looks like they're shamelessly milking it for audience ratings? There is no clear-cut answer to that question. But cable TV coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been testing limits like a restless puppy on a short leash.
Other stories in the world, as varied as the crisis in
But I knew we truly had entered news candyland on
Shades of Sybil the Soothsayer, the mythical medium in the classic mid-1970s movie "Network" whose future-viewing segment followed
I used to think "Network" screenwriter
I'm disappointed but not surprised by the behavior of the news channels. They are responding to the demands of audience ratings. When the
But as the New York Times put it, "it is CNN, the cable network that has been scrambling to find a sustainable business model against its main competitors,
Ratings for CNN surged with its airline coverage by almost 100 percent in prime time. They even managed, according to the Times, "the rare feat of edging past
I'm less surprised by the behavior of TV programmers than I am intrigued by the public's tastes. Who are the news-addicted viewers who can't get enough of the endless video of
My theory is based on my experience: To attract an audience, tell a good story. Narratives help us to make sense of a complicated world. When the story is frighteningly incomplete, as in the
In that sense, the endless cable chatter is ear candy. It provides a soothing sustenance, even if only with empty calories, until a more complete story can be told.
Some people like the alternative speculation so much that they cling to it anyway, as with the die-hard "truthers" who believe the
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Article: Copyright © 2014, Tribune Content Agency.
"News Candy for the Ears"