Friday, November 26, 2010

Dangerous or Just Newsworthy?

A refreshingly media-critical piece from the BBC about how the media distorts reality by ingoring the commonplace and highlighting the unusual or bizarre.

"When considering societal problems over the long term, news-worthiness is often in inverse proportion to frequency. If problems become commonplace, they are not new - so do not qualify as 'news'. This means the media often guides politicians to focus on less serious acute problems at the expense of more serious systemic problems." 

So road crashes seldom make the news, while rail crashes always do, in spite of the fact that far more people die on the roads. So the public's attention is focussed away from the more deadly problem.

Cycling is somewhere in between. Cycle deaths are unusual enough to make the news from time to time (at least the Evening Standard), but not unusual enough for any in depth analysis or for any calls for 'something to be done'.

But here's the thing. It is in the media's (and particularly the BBC's) gift to correct this perspective. With new media there isn't the pressure on space or the need for a set number of stories every day to fill up a newspaper or TV show. Blogs and websites free the media from the deadline-driven culture of the dead-tree era. It's possible to present statistics and analysis about the commonplace in an engaging way. So why don't they do it?

Well, funnily enough, the BBC are happy to report mundane matters like speeding or parking tickets with regularity. That doesn't fit the theory. Surely the BBC don't have a secret agenda?

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