Ed Driscoll

If It Bleeds, It Leads

Jeff Jarvis reminds television news departments that car chases are not news:

Let’s hope that one result of the crashof two news helicopters chasing the cops chasing a bad guy is that local TV — and cable — news give up their addiction to this nonstory. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.TV news loves its own clichés and habits; it likes the sameness and predictability. TV news is OCD: This is how we always cover cities digging out from snowstorms and shoppers mobbing malls on the day after Christmas and cops chasing criminals — and, of course, any fire bigger than a Bic’s flame. There’s no news in any of this. It’s the opposite of news, for we know exactly what will happen. News is what we don’t know. But we know how these chases end.

And we know what will happen with TV news and helicopters: They’ll keep doing it. See earlier journalism-review fretting about chopper chases in 2006, 2003, 2002 and 1997 — and, of course, after the O.J. Simpson chase in 1994. It will never change.

I grew up watching WPVI, Philadelphia’s ABC affiliate; their daily Action News broadcasts were amongst the first of the local news shows to adopt the policy of “If It Bleeds, It Leeds”, and they’ve spent the last 35 years or so opening their nightly news broadcasts with lurid murders, muggings and car chases. (They even had their own helicopter crash last year.)

If you type “WPVI” into YouTube’s search engine and poke around, you’ll see that a popular past-time amongst the more tech savvy WPVI fans in Philly is parodying the Action News opening theme by mashing it up and splicing in even more grotesque shots of car crashes, hit and runs, and other video horrors. At least it’s more honest than the real Action News intro, which shows Philadelphia at its finest, in contrast to the daily debauchery actually reported in the body of the show.

There’s another reason why television news should abandon their helicopters: if TV news anchors are going to preach the evils of, as Tim Blair calls it, glowball worming, shouldn’t they begin to phase out their own gas-guzzling–not to mention potentially lethal–helicopters? If jetting out to a vacation amongst hundreds of fellow tourists in a single plane equals “binge flying” then what’s the purpose of TV news ‘copters, other than to generate ratings? As Jarvis writes above, it’s the opposite of news.

Update: Further thoughts from Michael Mannske, who compares the way the elite media covers the outside world, versus how it circles the wagons when a story involves one of their own.