Saturday, August 28, 2004

First question if they're missing?

It's never going to be color.

I was on my way to 2nd man for the crew covering the disappearance of Sharon Anne Santos. Okay, maybe I should explain the term "2nd man". That's newsroom shorthand for saying that the primary photographer and reporter get another photographer to assist out in the field. That's not vital information for this post, that's just how I happened to be on the story. On the way to the location, I was listening to a local talk-radio program. The topic of conversation was something that always perks me up. Fairness in "the media". Actually, lack of fairness. I'm sure you knew that. The question posed was specifically whether the major news organizations have provided more coverage in stories of missing persons if that person happened to be white, female, and pregnant. I couldn't believe that was actually a topic of conversation on talk radio. Are people really asking themselves this question?

I couldn't follow the program very long. As typical, my job kept getting in the way. What I did hear irritated me. This is the type of ignorance I try to discourage whenever possible.

What else can we do? This is the story.

The friends and family of Sharon Anne Santos was holding a rally in their neighborhood to keep the public aware of their daughter's case. As cars drove by, with the driver's permission, they taped copies of the missing poster to the cars.

Relevant? Maybe. Ironic? Yeah, well, I don't know if any national media covered the story. I don't know what the other Los Angeles news stations were doing. I do know that I was there. A reporter and another photographer were there. I couldn't tell you what it is about the Laci Petterson case and cases like it that draw in so much national attention.

I just believe you're missing the point when you look to media coverage with the expectation of some secret agenda or bias based on race. If you're really trying to help society, you're never going to accomplish anything just by questioning why "THE MEDIA" is covering a story. At least, not if you don't follow up by asking, "Why is the public watching?"

We're in the business of news. There are stories that need to be told and there are stories that the public wants to hear. Our business success depends on attracting viewers. So, when people stop watching stories that involve car chases, celebrity court cases, and fill-in-the-blank-with-the-story-of-which-you've-seen-enough, we'll probably stop covering them.

In the meantime, if you see Sharon Anne Santos, tell her to call home. Even though she's not white and probably not pregnant, I'd still like it if she turned up safe.


Buttercup said...

Now that it is certain that Laci is dead, I am not sure why people are still obsessed. I think the soap opera like chain of events attract a sick need to follow every detail like your favorite show.

I wish people did care more about everyone out there missing, kidnapped, or otherwise wronged. But for now it seems that the tragedy that defalls pretty white females(Elizabeth Smart, Laci Peterson, Lori Hacking) are the only things that sell papers and attract viewers. I hope Sharon Santos makes it home - alive.

Grace said...

first- u know I respect your part in your work...still,
I honor the question, though it does not apply in this type of case...a missing person is sensational, pulls heartstrings, will be televised...if the person/family is not white, it's still televised, after all, it's ok and encouraged to have pity for "minorities". Pity does not allow positive change.
It sounds like a sensational debate. I think people are grasping in the dark, based on a feeling that something is off...investigation will educate and create more articulate, sane questions.....IS IT TRUE that intelligent discourse tends to bore listeners?
I said I honor the question, partly because it brings up the word business in your response. Please remember and investigate the conglomerate that owns your work.

p.s. I heard someone say, "news people will be the only ones in secure jobs if bush goes 4 more years" lol

beFrank said...

I had a theory once that cops and teachers are the only professions which really have an impact on the quality of life in our society. I no longer think that's true, but I'm often frustrated and saddened by my own profession's inability to live up to its' ability.

We all serve our own purpose and there is no real end, just a constant cycle of change. Things aren't always bad. When they are, we can each help to make things better. Accusations and rationalizations don't solve problems. Effort and discipline applied to higher goals should be the example we set for everyone. Don't aim for average, refuse the pity, and turn down the handout. I don't doubt that there are people who have real need for help, but I also know there are too many people who get hooked on letting someone else carry the burden.

You don't have to be perfect in this. It's often enough to just make the effort. Just try.

Damn. It's time for me to go and I was just getting warmed up.

Grace said...


the whole truth addressed within and by each of us

Volunteerism is worthwhile

I have helped

I have needed help

every success was part of a group effort
every single one
all one

dkgoodman said...

I remember interviewing Tom Bradley when he was running for mayor of Los Angeles the first time. He had been a police officer, and he told me he wanted to give every school teacher a device the size of a ballpoint pen that would let the teacher summon help if there was trouble in the classroom.

I had high hopes that Mayor Bradley would make great changes. He was a good mayor, but I think the political environment of Los Angeles kept him from being as great as he could have been. It was too entrenched in the developer-supported status quo.

I understand your statement that news organizations seek to provide the news that viewers want to see, but the decision of what stories would appeal to the viewers is still made by a person with their own perspective, and that perspective filters their belief in what would make a good story.

There are two (or more) sides to everything. I was once trying to fill a position for computer programmer on my team, and I had a stack of resumes I had winnowed down to the few applicants who had the experience we needed. A co-worker, a friend of mine, asked me why the company didn't hire more female programmers, and why we didn't hire more black programmers. I showed her the resumes, and she could see that none of the applicants had been female. I have no idea how many of them were people of color, and I didn't care. I would have been happy to hire a black, female programmer like she was, but they had to be experienced. It wasn't my bias to hire white males, they were just the only ones in my stack. (This was many years ago; the ranks of programmers are a little more diverse now, but still heavy on the white male demographic.)

I guess my point is that we can't assume bias in decisions, but we can all work harder to encourage diversity.

dkgoodman said...

P.S. The reason I mentioned Mayor Bradley is because he was a policeman who wanted to help teachers, two of the professions we set our hopes on, and I forgot to make that point because I'm still half-asleep. :)

Michelle said...

OMG....i can't believe that talk back radio is actually sabotaging itself with such a "media myth" What a load of garbage, and unfortunately, there will be people out there that will actually believe it to be true.
Personally, i think media more than any other profession, has the biggest impact in society. It reaches far more many people, especially now that the internet has taken hold.
My thoughts :)

magz said...

hmmmm..kinda reminds me of something... oh! I know, it was a quote! "If you build it, (or report it, or blog it, or sensationalize it, or promote it in any way shape er form).. They Will Come" (i uh... customized that quote a bit...) Just brings ponderin point number 8562 to my mind, namely, does news begat media, or media begat news? And number 8563? Why is ANY tragic, horrific, frightening, depressing or just plain shocking news so much more important to the average person than 'good' news? maybe... i understand the 'better that poor schmuck then me' attitude.. but can you just picture the resoundingly rotten reviews of a nightly news hour that told nothing but 'nice' stories? It's getting harder every day to raise optomistic children... and I try REAL hard not to think much on where the level of acceptable entertainment for the masses is heading.

Once upon a time back in the dim dark ages, there was much heated debate and controversy reguarding real journalists, reporting real news, about a war in Vietnam. There were actually folks outraged at the depictions of the attrocities perportrated in the name of war... SPECIALLY at the dinner table.. with graphic images and REAL FILM....why, how ugly!

The world's changed a bit since then.

planetary said...

I can't believe: I'm going to DEFEND THE MEDIA! Actually in reference to an earlier statement I made, people, not the media, make the Laci Peterson case their soap opera and as Action-Man says, " they are in the business of news." I remember during the OJ Simpson case, actually at the end, I saw a co-worker crying. She was SO upset that OJ got off. I actually thought the a nuke had destroyed New York!

The imperfection in human nature created new theories of study. We have to remember that the media mirrors (although the mirror might have seen time in the funhouse) society. Yes, I have blamed the media. And for that, I am human. But I must remember that I do watch car chases, want to know the score, even how many times President Bush created new words. I hope that Miss Santos is found. I hope the war ends. I hope that teachers are paid more. I hope the media brings all this to me and you tonight at six.

beFrank said...

Keith makes a. . .opps, I mean Planetary makes a good point.

I don't feel that the major news organizations aren't responsible for their programming choices, I just know what people claim to want to see and what they actually watch are two different things.

What about the corporation that owns CBS2 and KCAL9? I don't think you'll ever get anywhere in trying to convinvce a corporation to make less money. That's going to fall on deaf ears. You can only make things better by making the bad unprofitable. You have to support better programming when it's available.

beFrank said...
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