Media no longer making a killing reporting on everyday violence

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2007, 12:00am

One of the banes of working in a news room is being surrounded by TV sets tuned to the news channels 24/7. So on Thursday, I had to watch Virginia Tech mass murderer Cho Seung-hui's face and hear his rants every hour on the hour, thanks to Cable TV news and NOW news channel.

Apparently, in between murders, he managed to post photos and video clips of himself to the NBC news service.

The Koreans are feeling apologistic for the unspeakable acts of one of their countrymen, and the Chinese are getting overly sensitive because some US publications initially identified him as being from Shanghai. They are both wrong: there is no apology needed for a psychopath who just happened to be ethnically Korean. And the Chinese are drawing attention to something that has nothing to do with them.

There is something disturbing about the media coverage, but it's nothing to do with the Chinese complaint about its misidentifying Cho's ethnicity.

There will soon be, if there isn't one already, a backlash against the non-stop reporting by the world media of the killer and his victims.

The media business by its very nature trades on misfortune and bloodshed, and the more shocking the better.

Some Post readers have asked why there was more news coverage of Cho's killings than the series of bombings in Baghdad on the same day, where the number of victims was many times that in Virginia. This is why: we are no longer shocked by outrages in Baghdad, so they have less news value.

Commenting on this news phenomenon, Jack Shafer, an editor with the online magazine Slate, quoted another journalist who witnessed a very funny, if not very sad, incident in Congo back in the 1960s.

He wrote: 'The gold standard for journalistic insensitivity was established in the 1960s by an unnamed British TV reporter who was trawling for news at a Congo airport. According to foreign correspondent Edward Behr's 1978 memoir, the Brit walked through the crowd of terrified Belgian colonials who were evacuating, and shouted, 'Anyone here been raped and speaks English'?'

I must confess I share a professional respect for that Brit, though I would have shoved his microphone up his rear if I had been there.


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