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Late Night FDL: Story Fatigue

One of my least favorite media criticism dodges revolves around the idea that, though TV and newspaper pundits are powerful opinion leaders with massive megaphones through which they can amplify any point of view they choose, they are simultaneously powerless to resist the tastes of the public and must slavishly follow the directions of their reader and viewer masters.

As this Pew study points out, BULLSHIT:

In the week of March 21-27, for example, half (50%) of the respondents were still following the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake very closely, but media coverage had plunged to 15% from 57% the week before. That was also the case with the Tucson shooting when coverage dropped to 17% (the week of January 17-23) from 57% the week before, while news interest stayed very high, with 45% saying they were still following the story very closely.

Major weather events generated substantial coverage in the media in 2011, but even then not at the levels registered by the public. Coverage of the deadly Joplin Missouri tornado filled 22% of the newshole from May 23-29, but a full 45% of the public said they were following that story very closely. In a more dramatic divergence, the blizzards that blasted the Midwest the week of January 31-February 6 accounted for 8% of the newshole while almost half (45%) of the public were paying very close attention to them.

In other words, the people in charge of deciding what goes on your front page and leads the nightly news were already on to a retrospective of celebrity nipples while their audience was all, “erm, if you don’t mind, we’d still like to see more about this important thing even after the obligatory ‘put your pennies in the can at work to send six bucks to a relief agency’ fundraiser is over, thanks much.”

Yet you have these pieces about “story fatigue,” generally occurring around the time that producers and managers are worrying about the cost of keeping expensive correspondents in dangerous places, that make it sound like American news consumers are just desperate ADD crackheads who’d rather hear about Casey Anthony and WHICH MASCARA COULD KILL YOU TUNE IN TONIGHT TO FIND OUT than about Real Important World Events. Which means, of course, that those in charge of the news can once again blame their customers for being stupid, rather than blaming themselves for being lazy.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.