I used to be a reporter and I used to work in the public relations field too. I understand the news business a little better than the average bear. There’s a saying in news and PR: Never screw up on a slow news day. It’s okay to die on a slow news day, but don’t screw up on one. The reason is TV and radio have to fill up their newscasts and news-entertainment hybrid shows whether anything happens or not. And if it’s a slow news day the CBS Evening News (or NBC or ABC) will still be half an hour long. CNN and Fox News Channel will still broadcast 24 hours a day. Newspapers can print papers with fewer pages within limits. They do have to leave room for all the ads they’ve sold. TV and radio can’t broadcast shorter hours.
The esteemed TV journalist Tim Russert died on a Friday afternoon during what most people think of as the summer although technically it was still spring. This helps to explain the astonishing coverage his death received. Spontaneous news is the kind that happens most often on Friday afternoon. Unless its really bad news, manufactured news doesn’t. People go away or at least outside on Friday afternoon and Saturday so PR people don’t manufacture good news then because very few people will watch it, but they do manufacture bad news then for the same reason. Very few people will read about it either. Saturday newspapers have lower circulation than any other day of the week.
All of this is preamble to my observations brought about by this morning’s news coverage. Yesterday was a really slow news day around here. The Today Show (which is only partially a news show, I know that) had a report to warn viewers that running a little kid over with a power lawn mower will hurt or kill them. Now it was a terrible tragedy for the family of the little boy the Today Show focused on, but was it news? The only reason you wouldn’t think that running someone over with a power lawn mower was bad is if you never considered that possibility at all.
Then, because I’m old fashioned and used to be in the business, I went out and bought three newspapers. Well, maybe two, if you don’t consider the New York Post a real newspaper, and I know some people don’t. I once had a job where I was paid to read six papers every day. The entire front page of today’s New York Daily News was taken up with a big picture of the NY Mets new manager Jerry Manuel and a headline indicating that Mr. Manuel said the Mets are the #2 baseball team in NY. Lots of the paper’s sports section was taken up with elaborating on the “story.”
I’m a Met fan, but duh! If the Mets aspire to being the #1 baseball team in New York, it would help if they would win something. When I started in the news business, I was told that the obvious isn’t news. Does Jerry Manuel saying something obvious make it news? I hope not. Now man bites dog, that’s a story!