Jacko-mania tarnished media credibility
The sudden death of the pop star overshadowed all manner of truly significant national and international news for nearly two weeks. And coverage of his memorial service dominated television for much of Tuesday while generating near-record traffic on websites providing streaming video of the event.
So, yes, there was considerable interest in the story. But the media, by any measure, overdid it.
Although Jackson was a major cultural figure entitled to a proper sendoff, the wretched excess of media coverage took another chunk out of the diminishing credibility of the press.
Media executives – particularly the broadcasters who ginned up the wall-to-wall coverage – abandoned responsible news judgment and old-fashioned common sense in their decision to pander to an audience that evidently was not nearly as vast as they imagined.
The media went all out for the Jackson story in spite of a survey released last week that showed a resounding 64% of Americans believed – even before Tuesday’s media orgy– that coverage of the pop star’s passing was “excessive.” The survey was conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press.
That didn't stop the media Pooh-Bahs.
Despite the prevailing public sentiment that Jackson coverage was overblown, the story has claimed the greatest proportion of coverage in the traditional media since he died on June 25, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, a sister organization to the Center for People and the Press.
Between June 29 and July 5, Jackson grabbed 17% of the coverage in the mainstream media, far surpassing the economy (10%), Iraq (6%), Afghanistan (5%) and health reform (5%), according to a weekly audit conducted by the Center for Excellence in Journalism. The closest competitor over the Fourth of July weekend was Sarah Palin’s surprise resignation, which tied with Jackson for 13% of the newshole.
The Jackson story represented respectively 30% and 28% of the coverage monitored on network and cable television, according to Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director of the Center for Excellence in Journalism. Newspapers, to their credit, accorded the story an average of 7% of their front-page ink.
The survey showing that nearly two-thirds of the population felt the story was overdone clearly demonstrates there was not sufficient public interest in the event to justify saturation coverage.
From a journalistic point of view, there is no conceivable argument that the massive coverage served the public interest.
Thus, Jacko-mania appears to have been a curiously ill-conceived effort among many media outlets to appeal to a public that mostly wasn’t interested.
You can’t build confidence in the press by providing breathless coverage of an overblown event that most people don’t care about.