Thursday, July 24, 2008

News hype

Sometimes, I just don't understand why the news does the "We'll tell you on the news" hype thing they do. Especially with the ease of getting the same information online, it just seems silly to try to hook viewers by teasing them with just enough info to find out on their own.

Sometimes, this teaser just makes me laugh. Tonight, for example, they're trying to scare people into watching, since there have been confirmed rabid bats in Washington. They promise to tell you how to protect yourself and your family if you watch the news. Well, here are a couple hints: try not to get bit by bats. If a bat bites you, seek medical attention, including a rabies shot. If a bat is exhibiting unusual behavior, you should avoid it and/or attempt to kill it. Of course, these hints are generally the sort of advice you want to follow anyway, but most of the news-viewers who are going to worry are already likely unaffected, but a little too easily scared.

My favorite scare tactic is the "Which popular product may kill you or your family?" angle. It's not always that extreme, but it is about the mystery of something you could have being a possible danger. In many cases, "popular" tends to be rather undefined, and it's often a small portion of the supply that has been affected. "If you Washington residents have been traveling to Vermont to buy your electronics, you may be alarmed at the amount of radiation one batch of televisions have been producing. Affected serial numbers are XG100500-XG100513. If you have a 14-inch [company name redacted] TV with an affected serial number, you should call this hotline immediately."

People are shown on-camera panicking despite there being approximately zero chance they have the affected item, and someone on TV says it's an outrage. People watching at home suddenly feel they could've spent their time more wisely or they panic, too, since they once looked at one of the televisions by that brand, and they don't know how much radiation they may have absorbed.

Of course, the most effective is probably the "Which celebrity [got married/died/got arrested/burped on camera]?" People eat that up, even though there's no reason to give a damn what some celebrity does in their free time. If we quit salivating every time a celebrity came on, maybe the entertainment industry would improve--I'm sick of the "Scary Movie" Pavlovian test: referencing pop culture rather than writing a script.

In any case, if the news spent as much time researching their leads and reporting the facts as they do hyping themselves, I might actually stomach some of it.

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