One of those media think-tanks did a survey awhile back and came up with a number of interesting, but not totally surprising, conclusions:
· Most folks rate news reporters and editors well below intestinal tape worms.
· Intestinal tape worms were deemed to generally be better spellers.
· In terms of integrity, reporters rate ALMOST as untrustworthy as politicians of our two principal types (indicted and imprisoned.)
· On the other hand, reporters were considered slightly more trustworthy than TV preachers, especially those who handle snakes (the preachers, I mean.)
· News anchors scored OK in likeability, but so did Bonnie and Clyde.
· More folks get their news from TV than from newspapers, which is easy to explain: TV reporters have better hair.
The most interesting finding was that a majority of viewers/readers consider the media too “negative” in its reporting.
They want more stories about puppies, rainbows and “flowers bloom in city park.”
At least that’s what they told the media survey.
Which is total poppycock.
What they really crave is stories about ax murders, messy Hollywood divorces and creepy old coots who stuffed their next-door neighbor into a margarita blender.
We will never admit it -- especially to a media-survey person who’s taking notes -- but we lust after stories about crime, sex and violence. If you can combine all three (and toss in a movie star or sports celebrity) you’ve got the Perfect Ratings Storm.
Remember the O.J. trial? Folks around the country stayed glued to the tube day after day. They weren’t watching a special about bunnies playing in the park; they were soaking up every sordid detail about the celebrity double murder.
Several years ago a newspaper publisher in a small Midwestern town made the mistake of paying attention to one of those goofy media surveys that claimed readers wanted more happy news. He decided to focus on the cheerful, the upbeat and the positive.
His smiley-face paper folded after a couple of months.
The publisher dished out happy news, and nobody read it.
They claimed they wanted more positive and uplifting stories -- Boy Scouts deliver ice cream to residents of an old folks’ home during a heat wave. But what readers REALLY wanted was stories about the old folks stealing a bus and going on a Vegas crime spree, aided and abetted by a roving gang of stripper showgirls.
The same premise applies to sports, the realm in which I spent most of my 40-year ink-stained career. Sports-page readers complain that there’s not enough good news about touchdowns and home runs, and the star quarterback who volunteers his weekends in a soup kitchen.
But what they really want -- and story-tracking surveys bear it out -- is strife, dissension and turmoil. They’ll skim through the main story about the team winning the championship to get to the juicy sidebar about the strip-joint riot that occurred afterward.
My old sports editor always said that the most poignant stories come from the losers’ locker room, not the winner’.
We are drawn to negative news like gnats to stale cabbage. It’s human nature. Of course it makes us feel a tad guilty -- stopping to rubber-neck as we cruise by the crime scene -- so we blame the morbid media for dishing it out. It’s not our fault for sopping it up.
More than ever, it’s trite but true: If you don’t like the news, shoot the messenger.
(It’ll make a great lead on the 6 o’clock news: Bad-news messenger plugged. Complete with crime-scene video, wailing sirens and flashing cruiser lights.)