September 16, 2005

 

$49.95 for this?

On Monday, Sept. 19, NYTimes.com will launch a new subscription service, TimesSelect, an important step in the development of The New York Times.
That's right! For fifty bucks a year, you can continue to read classic stuff like this:
If a man-bites-dog story is news and dog-bites-man isn't, why are journalists still so interested in man-blows-up-self stories?

I realize that we have a duty to report suicide bombings in the Middle East, especially when there's a spate as bad as in recent weeks. And I know the old rule of television news: if it bleeds, it leads. But I'm still puzzled by our zeal in frantically competing to get gruesome pictures and details for broadcasts and front pages.

During the past decade I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of articles on suicide bombings, but I read to the end of just three of them, and that was only because I wrote them. Those bombings occurred in Baghdad and Kurdistan during the summer of 2003, when they were still a novel phenomenon in Iraq, but even then there was really nothing new to say.

As I intruded on grieving relatives at the scene and wounded survivors in hospitals, I didn't see what good I was doing for anyone except the planners of the attack. It was a horrifying story, but it was same story as every other suicide bombing, from the descriptions of the carnage and the mayhem to the quotes from eyewitnesses and the authorities.

(snip)

I suspect the public would welcome a respite from gore, like the one that New Yorkers got when Rudolph Giuliani became mayor. He realized that even though crime was declining in the city, people's fears were being stoked by the relentless tabloid and television coverage of the day's most grisly crime. No matter how much the felony rate dropped, in a city of seven million there would always be at least one crime scene for a live shot at the top of the 11 o'clock news.

Mr. Giuliani told the police to stop giving out details of daily crime in time for reporters' deadlines, a policy that prompted outrage from the press but not many complaints from the public. With the lessening of the daily media barrage, New Yorkers began to be less scared and more realistic about the risks on their streets.

I'm not advocating official censorship, but there's no reason the news media can't reconsider their own fondness for covering suicide bombings. A little restraint would give the public a more realistic view of the world's dangers.
Or you can search for the stuff on Google the next day and probably find it for free (you still might have to pay for your shower).


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