Et Tu, "Nightline"? the Kobe Bryant and Michael Jackson Sagas Are the Latest Manifestations of the Media's Infatuation with Celebrity-Even Ted Koppel Ditched President Bush for the Erstwhile King of Pop. but Is That So Wrong? in an Era with So Many Sources of News, Is Celebrity Overkill a Major Threat to the Republic?
Rosen, Jill, American Journalism Review
"If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."
That's the blunt, somewhat plucky motto of the Aspen Daily News, a small Colorado newspaper that in October made a blunt and somewhat plucky move. The paper, its editors decided, would no longer print news of arguably the area's biggest happening in ages: the rape trial of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant. It happened and, news judgment of the rest of the world be damned, they weren't printing it.
The ski mecca of Aspen is about a 70-mile snowy drive from the county seat of Eagle, a serene mountain town until this summer, when a resort worker from there accused Bryant of raping her. For months the Daily News had willingly fed its 12,000 or so readers steady offerings about the essentially local case, wire stuff usually but occasionally one of the paper's two staff reporters would wander up the road to send back a dispatch from the fray. But on October 9, as most media outlets from the area and the nation were revving their engines for the opening of the preliminary hearing and the release of what could be the first solid details of what happened between Bryant and the woman in the hotel room halfway between Eagle and Vail, the Daily News called it quits. In an editorial that day headlined "Kobe Who?" the paper promised readers that it was done covering the case until the verdict, done publishing minute and irrelevant tidbits surrounding it and, above all else, done running with the media pack.
"We just felt like enough is enough," Editor Rick Carroll said in December, a couple months into the no-Kobe diet and not feeling particularly deprived. Carroll, a thoughtful sounding guy, comes off equal parts proud of his decision and flustered by the attention it has brought. The media, naturally, with their insatiable need to devour all things Kobe, couldn't miss covering the paper that decided not to cover Kobe. So Carroll ended up hearing from hundreds of people, many of whom jadedly accused him of trying to make a statement, which, of course, he most certainly was.
And the statement was the Aspen Daily News' version of the evergreen parental refrain: If all the kids were jumping off a bridge .... Or, just because every Tom, Dan and Peter was covering this or any story doesn't mean everyone has to. "We wanted to make a statement to show we don't have to do that dance of the mainstream media," Carroll explains. "We felt like the coverage was just going way beyond what it was worth."
Anymore, too much is just the way things feel. Overblown is par for the course and eye-rollingly expected when it comes to stories of a certain ilk. With Kobe, with Laci and Scott, with Michael. With Paris and O.J. and Chandra. With sharks and the flu and Britney's kiss. Whether it needs it or not, America gets this stuff like its fries: super-sized.
And is that bad? Is there such a thing as too much? Depends whom you ask.
Stephen Bell logged 20 high-profile years as a correspondent for ABC News beginning in the late 1960s. It was a time, he says, when overkill was all but nonexistent.
Back then only a handful of news organizations anointed the stories of the day. These alpha dogs, which Bell calls "gatekeepers," all sung more or less the same tune, serious and sedate. The news people were seeing on ABC or NBC or CBS was what they were reading in the three newsweeklies or in the major newspapers.
Moreover, on TV, there was only 15 minutes to tell it all, then eventually 30. Even if a network did want to include a piece on, say, a famous basketball player's alleged sexual transgressions, it would all be said in about 30 seconds, hardly enough room to even begin anything resembling overkill.
Bell still remembers the day in 1977 when Elvis died and one of the big three networks led with it. "The other networks were aghast," recalls Bell, who now teaches broadcast journalism at Ball State University in Indiana. …