Tsunami OD?

Tsunami OD?

: When is enough coverage too much coverage of a tragedy like the tsunami? When does coverage pass over the line from news to exploitation? How do we know where that line is? Can the audience tell us, or not? These are just questions, but coverage by all the broadcast and cable networks — especially CNN — make me ask them.

CNN is built for crises. It has reporters on the ground; it is primed for action. War? Natural disaster? CNN’s there. Fox, on the other hand, is mostly talk. It started tiptoeing away from the tsunami story — at last from constant, wall-to-wall coverage — a few days ago. But even the BBC felt the pressure; on the Sirius BBC World feed the other day, I heard them read letters from listeners who said that, yes, this is a tragedy but how about covering other stories, too, and not repeating yourself all day long.

CNN is still pretty much round-the-clock with the story. And at some point, especially in a disaster such as this, I have to wonder when the hunger for human interest becomes exploitation. Are we there yet? Or have the other networks dropped the ball and CNN is giving this unimaginably large tragedy the proper coverage it deserves? Much of CNN’s coverage has been superb. I have seen amazing stories of real people, real tragedy, making the numbers human. But I’ve also seen much pathos passing as news.

Can the audience help decide the proper level of coverage? I don’t know. But the audience is speaking. TVNewser reports [via Kaus] that CNN’s ratings are up 40 percent but are still losing to Fox:

Thursday’s CNN special report, “Saving The Children,” was an excellent, compelling example of storytelling — but the constant promos didn’t attract a big audience. The show averaged 717,000 viewers at 10pm. (On FNC, Greta doubled that number.) CNN’s tsunami coverage performed better than MSNBC’s, though: The 9pm special report delivered 386,000 viewers. Full Thursday numbers:

> FNC: Shep: 1,459,000 / O’Reilly: 2,713,000 / H&C: 1,991,000 / Greta: 1,438,000

> CNN: 7p: 594,000 / 8p: 743,000 / King: 1,042,000 / 10p: 717,000

> MSNBC: Matthews: 476,000 / Olbermann: 386,000 / 9pm: 386,000 / Scarborough: 356,000

So who has the right news judgment? Should we pass this decision to the audience? Or is the old news-as-lecture view right in a case like this: Editors know best and tell us that this is an unpleasant story but it’s important and we need to hear it.

Another question is about reporters who start to become stars on the back of a tragedy. Is that exploitation, or just good work?

Yesterday, I heard one of the anchor (don’t know who, because I was listening via Sirius) say that she had cried many times a day at tsunami stories as she asked a reporter on the scene (the anchor is back here in a comfy studio) how she stands the pain. Did we need the anchor inserting her pathos?

But CNN is hardly alone. ABC’s flacks put out the story that Diane Sawyer simply didn’t sleep. Poor Diane. But she’s fed and clothed and housed and rich and alive.

What do you say? Are we about to OD on tsunami coverage? Is it passing over the line into exploitation? Or are we nowhere near that line and still need much more coverage?