There have been the usual nanny-like complaints from certain sections of the media industry and blue-rinse brigade within civil society about the way in which the media covered the Oscar Pistorius saga.
In my opinion and whether I actually like it or not, those media that went at the story boots and all were simply responding to what the majority of the public clearly wants.
One only has to look at the most popular programmes on television and the most-read stories in newspapers and magazines and it becomes blindingly clear that the consumer of today wants a mix of voyeurism, reality and escapism.
The Oscar Pistorius story has all of those ingredients and managed to distract the public from their the daily grind of worrying about debt, inflation, the petrol price and wages that are simply not coping with price rises.
While, as a news junkie and media purist, I sometimes cringe at the often outrageous kneejerk speculation that abounds, I recognise that successful mass media today are not only businesses conscious of looking after their bottom lines, but also entirely dependent on the whims, wishes and bottomless cravings of the consumer.
It occurred to me to try and put the balance between objective reportage and sensationalist content into some sort of perspective when I was watching on TV the final few minutes of the cricket test between South Africa and Pakistan.
There was a commotion when a streaker apparently ran on to the field. As the game ground to a halt and the commentators were talking about the streaker, the TV cameras remained prudishly focused elsewhere.
I found myself shouting, “Oh, for pity sake SuperSport, show us the damn streaker…!”
This wasn’t cricket. This wasn’t the reason why I was watching TV. But dammit, I wanted to see how the security guys caught whoever it was and frankly I wanted to see who it was.
Last rugby season my 41-year-old son and I were watching a match. Both of us keen sports fans. Both of us knowing more about the game than the referees, coaches and players.
Suddenly fisticuffs broke out and my son leapt to his feet shouting, “Yay, a fight, a fight…!”
I admonished him for making light of this unsportsmanlike behaviour that will inevitably corrupt school kids and bring the game into disrepute.
Then it occurred to me that I actually quite enjoyed a good bit of how’s-your-father on rugby and soccer fields, particularly if the games were boring or my side was losing.
I remember many years ago, when I was working in the motor industry, seeing some research that came out of the UK that the majority of viewers who watched motor races on TV did so silently hoping for a crash.
With the advent of embedded journalism in wars, the global public is able to see real life killing, bombing, machine-gunning and burning, first hand and in glorious full colour high-definition.
News today is instant. From shootings at American schools, to floods and hurricanes, violent protests and police firing on workers – the very nature of technology is such that it fuels media sensationalism.
I believe that Primedia’s EWN team did an outstanding job of maintaining a continuous Twitter and Facebook feed to their followers. Other media joined in and the barrage of social media coming out of the bail hearing was a literal tsunami of news.
Social media was the man-of-the-match medium of the Pistorius bail hearing. It was a sign of a change in media consumption that has already taken place but about which a lot of mass media remain in denial.
Of course, on a technical note, the jury is still out on whether journalists who tweet directly from the action as it is happening are drawing more listeners or readers to their media or whether those who follow it all feel they don’t need to tune in to the radio news or buy the newspaper because they have heard it all.
I personally feel that this phenomenon increases listenership and viewership in the long run, but only once it is properly researched will we have a definitive answer.
In the meantime, citizen journalism, however crude it is at times, is adding to the sensationalist nature of news simply because most of it is on the spot and full of the gory details.
So, to those who decry the media hype that is now so pervasive and intrusive, welcome to a new world of warts and all news coverage in which only time will be able to determine the level of objectivity.
And the worse the global economy the more escapism will drive sensationalism. It is the nature of man.
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