Saturday, January 30, 2010

Orphans = Ratings

One of the most important and fascinating stories of the week, the month and perhaps the year is former Prime Minister Tony Blair's testimony on Friday at an official inquiry into Britain's role in the Iraq war. But Nightly News did not even mention Blair's testimony. They were too busy bringing us three stories (taking up almost seven minutes) about Haitian orphans. What is happening in Haiti is extremely important. But Nightly News is not covering important stories. Instead of reporting actual news from Haiti, Nightly News is reporting feel-good tear-jerker stories that resemble the plot of a soap opera. Friday's "Making A Difference" story was about a California nurse who had a hard time leaving Haiti and the orphan she bonded with. That's not news, that's a Lifetime movie. Friday's other two Haiti stories were also about orphans, and were designed to strike an emotional chord with viewers, not to convey information. Apparently, the producers have determined that orphans equal ratings. This is a frequent tactic on Nightly News. By showing stories that reach viewers emotionally (but that have no news value), the producers attract large audiences, gain high ratings and ultimately earn more advertising dollars. And although Brian Williams did not have enough time to report on the Tony Blair story, he did have enough time to tell us about the retirement of quarterback Kurt Warner and the ice storm in Oklahoma. On his Tuesday blog, Brian wrote, "While other legitimate stories compete for our time and attention, I'm proud that our coverage of Haiti on tonight's broadcast -- and this week in general -- is about at the same level its (sic) been for days." Unfortunately, that level is quite low. Brian continues, "(A)nd I hope those previously unfamiliar with Haiti and Haitians learn something from this tragedy: about their work ethic, their faith, their stoicism and seemingly endless capacity to endure." Give me a break. That drips with insincerity. Brian should just be honest and admit that his goal is to earn high ratings, not to report news. Perhaps if Tony Blair was an orphan, Brian Williams would have reported on him.

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