Monday, August 3, 2009

If it bleeds, it leads.

In the swamp that is a commercial television newsroom I am something of a bottom feeder. I am quite happy to show up once or twice a week to do my insignificant job for an insignificant amount of dough.

The newsroom, if nothing else, has made me a nervous mother. One occasionally hears or sees details that will never make it to the six o’clock news and it is these tidbits which have arranged themselves into an un-fun show-reel in my imagination.

It’s like getting to adulthood and still having a monster under the bed, several, in fact.

Headlining my show is an eleven-year-old boy roller-blading behind his brother on the way to the shop. Somewhere along the way he is snatched, fifteen days later he is found dead.

During the course of this story unfolding I was corralled into an edit-suite by the then newsroom director, a man I was so mindful of I had installed a rear vision mirror next to my computer lest he should appear anywhere outside of my peripheral vision. He had a special talent for materialising behind me just as I had been saying dreadful things about him. For the purpose of this story I shall call him Ratings Man.

Ratings Man had me pegged as someone typically representative of a commercial television news target audience. An audience known affectionately by journalists as mouth-breathers, inbreds and oxygen-thieves. I had been invited into the edit suite to watch the opening shots on a story about the missing boy. Ratings Man wasn’t particularly interested in what I thought; he wanted to see what I did. I watched the story and Ratings Man watched me.

The shots were home video of the boy. Performing confidently for the camera, his vitality was palpable. I imagined one of his parents behind the viewfinder of the camera with nary a thought that, one day, this two dimensional version of their son would be broadcast into the lounge rooms of tens of thousands of strangers when a stranger had taken the story of their lives and written its most abominable chapter.

Given the circumstances of the story I did what any Mother might do. Winded with grief, I clapped my hand over my mouth to stop myself from crying. Monitoring my reaction, Ratings Man seemed pleased, in a bloodless sort of way. He said, “That’s exactly what we want”. I was thanked and told I could leave. I went to the ladies toilet to cry.

There’s every chance that Ratings Man was familiar with a report by Mediascope, a non-profit media-research and policy organisation in the US, which stated in one of its reports that “…stories of crime and violence increase newscasts’ ratings.” Or, in the vernacular of the newsroom, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

These memories sit side by side in my heart, a shocking crime against an innocent, and a man who appeared to have forgotten how to feel about it.

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