Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Simpson Case Reflects Tabloid-News Trend Critics Say Lure of Big Profits Is Degrading US Journalism

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Simpson Case Reflects Tabloid-News Trend Critics Say Lure of Big Profits Is Degrading US Journalism

Article excerpt

SEVENTEEN million Americans watched an hour-long ABC News special on O.J. Simpson four days after his infamous slow-speed car chase. The program was the week's top-rated show and generated an estimated $7 million in advertising revenue for the network.

A week after the chase, Time and Newsweek magazines reported near-record sales of issues with Mr. Simpson on the cover. Within two weeks of the chase, more than 1 million copies of three different $4.95 quickie-books on the Simpson case were shipped to bookstores.

For the American media, the stakes - and potential profits - have rarely been higher. But critics warn that the potential to make such large profits is lowering the quality of much American journalism and blurring the line between entertainment and news.

Intense competition, corporate takeovers, and the success of profitable television newsmagazines have led network news divisions to lower their standards, critics warn, and many newspapers and publishers are slowly following suit.

"Journalism has a public-service role, and a public responsibility, to not lose its mind to attract advertising and to use restraint and caution {instead}," says James Squires, former editor of the Chicago Tribune and a critic of corporate takeovers of newspapers.

"Now there is a devotion, and responsibility, to making as much money as you can," Mr. Squires says. "The news reflects the subject matter of prime-time entertainment - sex, violence, the aberrant, and the absurd."

Boston University Mass Communications Professor Toby Berkovitz says that newspapers are producing just as much "entertainment" as television news.

"What do you do about the Living section of the Boston Globe or the Styles section of the New York Times?" Professor Berkovitz asks. "Do you say this is news or entertainment?"

Both critics say that print and broadcast media coverage of the Simpson case and other recent stories reflects an intense pressure for profits and the influence of syndicated TV newsmagazines.

The first syndicated TV news magazine, Fox Television's "A Current Affair," aired in 1987. The weekday half-hour program generally attracts 5 million viewers each night and earns an estimated $700,000 in advertising revenues per episode.

The show's success and profitability soon led other entertainment companies to launch three similar shows - "Hard Copy," "Inside Edition," and, most recently, "American Journal."

A steadily rising number of network news magazines now dominate the prime-time schedule, because they can be even more profitable, Berkovitz says. A one-hour network news magazine costs roughly $500,000 to produce, but with good ratings it can earn $2 million in advertising revenue.

Berkovitz says intense competition among network news magazines and the syndicated TV newsmagazines' willingness to air "tabloid-style" stories has led the networks and local television stations to lower their standards. …

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