During George Zimmerman’s trial in the death of Trayvon Martin, several people asked my opinion. I responded by saying, “I am not watching.”
The trial was a circus that’s entire purpose was to provide entertainment coverage. Riots in the streets, racism and disparaging remarks from both sides of the case have erupted over the jury’s verdict of not guilty.
The problem is the case has no inherent impact on the nation.
Nancy Grace and Jane Velez Mitchell of HLN have been the poster-children of entertainment news. Not like Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus entertainment. The dumb kind like Jodie Arias and George Zimmerman.
Prior to the advent of network and cable reporting, the Zimmerman and Arias cases would’ve been considered local news. It wouldn’t have impact on the millions of others that missed out on the story.
When newsgathering, journalists are taught a few things to look for to determine what should be written, because of limits on time, space, and number of staff members they just can’t cover it all.
They are; timeliness, stories that are breaking or have happened relatively soon; impact, monetary, physical, or emotional stories that impact the lives of individuals in someway; proximity, it happened close by; conflict, a fight, war, crime, argument on city council, etc.; uniqueness, something so rare or extraordinary that a general audience would be surprised by its happening (where the man bites the dog rather than a dog biting a man); and prominence, a public figure, or high-profile celebrity has done something.
On a local level, the Zimmerman trial for sure meets several standards. But when deciding news on a national level, the newsworthiness must be applied to a story even more strictly. It wasn’t done right here.
In an episode of HBO’s the Newsroom, the anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his news crew refuse to go on the air to discuss the Casey Anthony trial because they consider it non-news. Later they were forced to do so anyway.
A dialog stuck out that hit the nail on the head. The crew was breaking down “infotainment” style Nancy Grace uses to cover the trials, which is reminiscent of many major media outlets.
“In the center screen is (Nancy Grace) surrounded by experts.”
“What are they experts in?”
“Agreeing with everything Nancy says.”
From an extreme objective point of view, the Zimmerman trial was nothing more than a case of a zealous neighborhood watch member who encountered a young, black man in a very sketchy situation. Zimmerman’s defense wasn’t the best, but it was able to provide enough to leave doubt lingering in the minds of the jurors.
Essentially, the saturated coverage of the Zimmerman trial created news and racial tension that didn’t exist before.
Racial outrage didn’t come from this case because it was clear that Zimmerman was guilty and got off because he was white. It was because the audience was presented a type of news that was inciteful. Shameful.
Many of my journalist friends told me that it’s an important case because it opens up conversations about race and uncovers racial truths. All the impacts are secondary, caused by coverage.
When has their not been an understanding that certain races are unfairly treated? All this has done is given fuel to embers.
If the “racial discussion” was the point of the story, then that must be code for riots, assault, and a critical eye to the justice system that in this case may have worked out in favor of the media. Martin’s family won’t get their son back. Zimmerman won’t ever be free. The nation is once again shackled by racial turmoil and hate.
And journalists wonder why we’re ranked just above plumbers in public trust.
The argument is often said that infotainment is needed to keep viewers. Well, if all the news stations went back to what their original training taught them, then the real news would’ve been spread. There should’ve been discussions on student loan interest doubling, the coup in Egypt, the gang violence in Chicago, how Texas will deal with an influx of drug cartels, who the next Secretary of Defense will be, a Farm Bill that was passed by the House of Representatives that completely cut food stamps, the political gridlock that is causing caustic and non-productive Congresses, and an immigration reform law that passed the Senate.
But that’s probably news to you.
-Stephen is Editor-in-Chief of the Houstonian, a staff reporter for the Hutnsville Item, and also the President of the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association.