The Michael Jackson-Citizen Kane connection

I did some poking around yesterday and came across an item by mystery novelist/blogger Roger L. Simon linking to my rant about Michael Jackson. Somebody posted this in the comments:

You wonder why the focus on Jackson by the media?

What journalist, print or TV, has not seen “Citizen Kane”? Every newsroom producer with a career, an ulcer and a mortgage remembers quite well when Charles Foster Kane first arrives at The Chronicle. Who was the comic relief? The fussy, stuffy old Editor-In-Chief. What was comical about him? He dared to opine to Kane that sensationalized murder-and-mayhem were not news, and therefore not appropriate for inclusion in a serious newspaper like The Chronicle.

Remember what happened to him? Can anyone remember his name? That newsroom producer may not remember his name, but he surely remembers his fate.

Journalists spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves and others that they are the last bastion of truth, liberty and democracy. And you know what, that may actually be. But what I do now for certain is if the ratings are low or circulation drops in the service of truth, liberty and democracy, somebody is going to have their fanny handed to them as they are shown the door.

Actually most daily newspapers in the United States have their local markets to themselves so they don’t get too exercised about circulation: some even drive their circulation down because they can make higher profits by dropping expensive routes in rural areas. TV news is another matter: it’s much like the supermarket checkout stand …. tons of competition at consumers’ fingers … so it’s easy to understand the temptation to wallow in the gutter for ratings. Why newspapers in monopoly markets go along for the ride is another matter — mostly it comes down to us living in the same society as everybody else, and we are just as susceptible to celebrity stories as everybody else. Sure, we should be above all that, but it’s lonely up in heaven when they’re having so much fun down on earth.

UPDATE: My referrer logs sent me to a blog called rantingprofs, whose take on the Jackson piece was:

On the one hand, this could be the definitive Michael-Jackson-is-crap-not-news rant. (I’m not kidding: we thought I got going. This guy can really rant.) (Hat tip: Roger Simon.) On the other hand notice the assumption that gets made. It isn’t that it is a mistake to cover Michael Jackson-ish stories because it misreads the audience. It’s that it’s a mistake to cover these stories because it should be the job of the press to force the American people to eat their vegetables, not just give them their dessert.

I’m not all that concerned about the readers’ nutrition these days … maybe 10 years ago that critique made more sense, but the Web and cable TV have made it pretty much obsolete. What I’m more worried about is us, the journalists who have better things to do with our working lives. Covering celebs is porn minus nudity, and I doubt many of us got into this biz to gain mindshare with Larry Flynt.

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