29 June 2009

real news

An opinion/editorial (filed on Monday 29 May 2009) in The Daily Evergreen, student newspaper of Washington State University (in Pullman, not to be confused with University of Washington in Seattle) was very topical.
Celebrity deaths eclipse real news

The over-saturated coverage of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and television pitchman Billy Mays display America’s morbid fascination with celebrity. Their deaths are undoubtedly newsworthy, but they don’t require the incessant media coverage that has enveloped the nation’s airwaves, Web sites and newspapers in recent days. News outlets need to stop treating every celebrity’s death like it’s the fall of the Berlin Wall. When a person of relative importance passes away, a brief summary of the person’s life should be given an allotted amount of time for reflection without digressing into unrelenting coverage.

It should not supplant actual news that may be relevant, both locally and globally. We’re just as enthralled with “Thriller” as everyone else, but the deteriorating situation in Iran and the dire economic straits here at home should take preference over a crotch-grabbing, moonwalking cultural icon of the 1980s.

The deaths of Fawcett, Mays and Ed McMahon have all captivated the nation, albeit to a lesser extent than Jackson’s. But just consider the fact that we’re talking more about Fawcett four days after her death than the majority of us have in the last 20 years. Yes, she’s a person, and yes, she deserves to be mourned. But why not leave that for the people who loved her and cared for her, rather than exploiting death for ratings.

Of course, it’s not just the media that deserves to be admonished. Web sites from Google to Twitter reported being inundated with traffic around the time Jackson was taken to the hospital. One might expect the Los Angeles Times’ site to strain under the load after announcing his death. But Twitter (as has been shown in the last week) is proving to be a crucial outlet for the people of Iran to let their government and the rest of the world know of the election fraud that has taken place in their country. The constant influx of status updates bemoaning Jackson’s death overpowers news from Iran. We should be more concerned with holding corrupt governments accountable rather than the banality of celebrity.

Jackson’s death is not irrelevant and people’s grief is genuine in many cases, but a proper grieving process includes reserving retrospective analysis for the people who truly impact our daily lives With the number of “celebrities” (and we use the term as loosely as the rest of the media does) increasing every day, we’re rapidly approaching the point of total saturation. We have only the best wishes for the Jackson family and for those close to him. For the rest of us, it’s time to take the hint and “Beat It” – we’ve got enough things to worry about.

Indeed, the death of any one person should not need to take up half of a 30 minute or one hour news bulletin, let alone continuing on for days afterwards. It would be interesting to compare the coverage to that of Pope John Paul II, whose death really did directly affect over one billion Catholics.

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