Ground those TV choppers
This journalistically indefensible insanity must be stopped. If broadcasters won’t do it voluntarily, then the Federal Aviation Administration, acting on behalf of us innocents on the ground, ought to step in and do it for them.
As amply reported in all possible media, four television newsmen died Friday when their two helicopters collided in flight while providing breathless, live coverage of the inconsequential police pursuit of some schlemiel accused of running a traffic stop. After the copter crash, the police chief indicated he was thinking of charging the driver with murdering the newsmen, a bogus notion sure to be rejected by more competent legal authorities.
While the tragedy is profoundly distressing, it is even more depressing to realize that the deaths of these men were as pointless as the story they were covering.
Four good men lost their lives because unimaginative television news directors over the years have come to prize live video collected with expensive toys over stories characterized by greater subtlety and significance.
Because cheap mayhem, unfortunately, is widely available on demand in most metro markets, stories about journalistically inconsequential murders, fires and rapes dominate more than two-thirds of the coverage of the typical TV newscast. As reported here previously, you are about 50 times more likely to view a local TV news story about a murder than one about science, child care or pollution. You are roughly 20 times more likely to “Eyewitness” a fire than a report on education, discrimination or marriage.
Ever since the slow-mo aerial chase of O.J. Simpson and his white Bronco in 1994, news directors have dispatched their copter crews on costly missions to provide live footage of all manner of un-newsworthy traffic jams, fires and car chases.
How costly? Very.
Apart from the lives of the newsmen lost in helicopter crashes over the years, it costs no less than $1 million a year to operate a modest-sized news chopper carrying a crew of two, according calculations based on information published at Helinews.Com. That’s enough money to hire 10 to 15 journalists to develop real stories.
If this latest accident finally causes the industry to wise up and ground its extravagant fleet of noisy and air-polluting helicopters, then the grieving families of the Phoenix newsmen would have the modest comfort of knowing their loss wasn’t in vain.