Talking PointsIt was somewhat disappointing, but not surprising, that the death of actor Heath Ledger was covered on the front page of The New York Times last week.
Proliferation of celebrity news is its own scandal
Celebrity news, which at one time only had a place on the cover of checkout stand tabloids, is now making the cover of the "Gray Lady," as the New York Times is nicknamed because of its staid, sober, somewhat stuffy style.
Unfortunately, there has been no shortage of celebrity scandals. Hilton in the hoosegow to Anna's untimely expiration, Britney's breakdowns and legal battles and Lindsay's legal troubles have filled newspaper pages and airtime. .
I am troubled by what is not being reported to accommodate for this can't-help-but-look train-wreck celebrity news--namely investigative, watchdog, going-to-affect-your-life-and-society news and analysis. Real news. Like the fact that the state of California has a $14.5-billion budget deficit, the Federal Reserve is working on an economic stimulus program to combat the recent downturn in the economy, caucuses, campaigns, conventions and remember that conflict overseas?
In August, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press conducted a survey in conjunction with the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Coverage Index. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they believe celebrity scandals get "way too much" ink and airtime. And 54 percent of those folks said the media itself is to blame for covering celebrities. Roughly one-third, 32 percent, said the public is at fault for paying so much attention to them, and another 12 percent said the media and the public are equally to blame.
This being the season of polls, I did an unscientific poll of my own on the causes of celebrity scandal-saturated media. Here's what I heard from non-journalists:
"The people want it and (the mainstream media) has to give it to them or they'll go somewhere else."
"People don't want to read about gloom and doom. (Celebrity news) distracts everyone from reality."
"Everyone wants to be a celebrity. They want the name recognition and the money. They want to relate to them. And the media takes the opportunity to feed it to the people."
As a former features editor at a chain of daily newspapers, I am of the opinion the proliferation of celebrity news has to do with dwindling newsroom resources and the ease of obtaining celebrity news to fill the pages.
It is a destructive cycle: Americans blame the media for the proliferation of celebrity coverage and the media blames Americans for demanding the coverage. News gatherers find it easy to pick up this information off wire services to fill pages, so wire services employ more people to cover celebrity news. The more celebrity news offered, the more people want. And heaven forbid that one news outlet be "scooped" by not offering the same mind-numbing fodder as another outlet.
This is obviously one of my many pet peeves. I encourage you to send your thoughts and welcome your opinions.
I will say that at least the old Gray Lady had the story about last week's Fed's rate cut above the fold. Perhaps all is not lost.
Gina Channell-Allen, a 20-year journalism veteran, is the president of the East Bay division of Embarcadero Publishing Company, president of the Pleasanton Weekly and publisher of the Danville Weekly. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.