The story about the news helicopter mid-air collision and tragic death of two pilots and two cameramen caught my attention. The news crews were following a police car chase for their TV stations which apparently the public love to watch. There is even a service one can subscribe to, to receive alerts that a police chase is happening, being filmed and being broadcast.
The crews involved in the accident specialised in covering human tragedies such as accident scenes, car chases, crime scenes etc. With other words they chased after, filmed and reported on exactly what they ended up being involved in themselves.
Reading in the online edition of the Washington Post, it reports that other helicopter and camera crews who had been following the car chase honed in on the two crashed helicopters to report on the accident. Some footage of the spiraling and burning helicopters was shot and broadcast and photographs appear with the news story.
According to the Washington Post, reporters at the accident scene were crying and hugging each other in between their news reporting. Others were sitting and staring into space, others were commenting that this accident could have happened to any of them.
And yet, with having seen the accident happen to people they knew and had worked with on the ‘beat’ of accidents and human tragedy, these very same reporters had set up cameras and were still describing this personal tragedy to viewers. There was no let up. It is commendable that these reporters continued with their jobs even during this hard time.
For me this dedication to their jobs is the more shocking. A really personal tragedy is playing itself out in front of the photojournalists and they have to continue doing their job because the networks demand it. The networks have to follow this through because it gives them the ratings they need so that they can sell advertising to make the profits the shareholders require.
Surely it really puts the spot light on us viewers who are so hard core that we want our TV channels to show the absolute limits of human tragedy. We see it time and again how the press swarms all over accidents, camps outside colleges where some student has committed mass murder, reports in front of burning buildings, floods, hurricanes. Name the tragedy and the journalists are there.
It’s the same principle when the Paris Hilton’s of this world can claim front page coverage because they happen to be going to prison for a few days on drunk driving charges. It becomes an event to be milked for PR milage, rather than the punishment it should be. But don’t blame Ms Hilton. She is just playing the system.
It is we the public who dictate the news. Whether it is human tragedy or tragically shallow human existence, it is what the public want to see that determines what news will be shown. It is no accident that CNN got its break to be considered a serious news channel with its coverage of the war in the Persian Gulf also called Dessert Storm. It had been called Chicken Noodle Network up to then.
Human tragedy is what brings in the ratings. We buy the newspapers that showcase tragedy on its front page. We watch the news that shows the New York twin towers collapsing during 9/11 and the TV footage is shown so often it becomes a screen-saver.
I suppose it’s just like the Gladiators in Roman times where the spectators loved the human misery of a competitor getting killed. Regrettably it appears that no amount of ‘civilisation’ acquired during the intervening years has changed that. We are still glued to the spectacle of human tragedy, it’s just that now it is the TV box instead of the Colosseum that is the arena.