Milk carton TV

Milk carton TV

: Watching the hours of TV devoted to the tragedy of the latest missing child in Florida is, well, uncomfortable. It is a good thing that TV is using its power to spread the word and, perhaps, help find the child; it has worked before. But once the word is spread, is it really necessary to eek out the angsts of the family — and the suspicions of police and anchors — at length, again and again? It’s a sick sort of voyeurism, witnessing pain.

When I was a reporter on the midnight shift in Chicago — where I sat and waited until somebody killed somebody or died a miserable death to write stories under our standing slugs: slash, crash, slay, burn — I frequently had the unfortunate duty of calling the family of a victim of some sort of terrible crime or accident to get grist for our mill: human-interest quotes and pictures. I quickly learned the best line to use, the same one you hear on TV: Please tell us about your loved one, tell us more than just the name and the cold details that will appear in the paper. We’re acting as if we and the audience are concerned. And maybe we are. But it’s still an intrusion.

How much do we need to know about these horrible missing-children cases? What is the best way to serve? I think we could exchanges long, painful, salt-in-wound interviews with distraught relatives in front of their humble homes for more-frequent alerts.

  • marthirial

    In Jeff’s case, I guess watching TV is like a farmer having to shovel shit out of the barn, disgusting but part of the trade. People NOT watching TV are like in heaven, seems like,
    Is not voyeurism, is relief, knowing than somebody else is in a worse situationthan our therefore we can be compassionate instead of victims and bring some worth to our existance.

  • marthirial

    In Jeff’s case, I guess watching TV is like a farmer having to shovel shit out of the barn, disgusting but part of the trade. People NOT watching TV are like in heaven, seems like,
    Is not voyeurism, is relief, knowing than somebody else is in a situation worse than ours therefore we can be compassionate instead of victims and bring some worth to our existance.

  • von

    I thought it was kind of strange myself, but maybe I’m a better person now that I know that the missing childs dad had just come home from spending the night with his girlfriend, he lives with his mom, the childs mother is absent from her life, etc, etc. I smell an Oprah episode!

  • eddy

    One thing I’ve always been curious about… What makes this particular missing child high profile and media worthy as opposed to the thousands of other missing children around the country? I’ve never been able to figure out what determines that except, perhaps, money?

  • Jeff,
    I personally have gotten to the point of avoiding those first few minutes of tv news when I know it’s going to be dwelling on the latest personal tragedy.
    It’s like the tag I heard put onto the endless coverage of tsunami news – it was being called ‘tsunami porn’.
    Picking up the news on, or others, like, makes it more directed, you can spend the time you choose on the news you want personally to dwell on. And in some cases, avoid horrifying pictures.

  • Ebb Tide

    Live tv is repetitious like that because they are re-capping an event for THOSE JUST TUNING IN, it is not meant to be watched hours at a time. But because they are so skillful at teasing it every 15 mins, you think if you stick around you will see something new. It is best to just get the gist of it and then turn the channel to something other than news, but for news junkies that is hard to do, I know.
    I thought it was weird that some of the news stations, like CNN, went wall to wall on the Pope’s illness. I mean, when he dies there will be a new Pope, but he is not stepping down yet, and if he does step down, we’ll get a new Pope, but do we need to know the “every 5 minute” evolution of this story? It’s weird, but I think news stations like CNN like these stories because they can FILL endless voids of time on air by talking about it. And saying nothing in the process.

  • Jerry Kallman

    Jeff: You sat at a desk. As a beat reporter I had to visit the aggrieved family and once in a while, as once when reacting to an AP bulletin on a summer camp drowning, came upon the family BEFORE they had been officially notified. An awkward situation, to say the least.

  • There is a certain element of morbid fascination here. We are drawn to such events not because they are common, but because they are rare. If kids disappeared all the time, if people were killed in our neigborhood on a regular basis, we wouldn’t care. But since such events happen every now and then we are intrigued by them. And disturbed.
    When nudity is the norm shorts become obscene.
    Add that to a slow news day, and journalism’s tendency to collective OCD, and you get a local story being spread nationwide. And hashed into a misty puree.
    I can’t do anything about it, so I’ll remain calm and go on with my life. I hope the child is found, but I’m not going to fret about it. It will do no good and only give me the pleasure of feeling guilty about something I have no part in. If only the news business would wake up to that.

  • As Elvis Costello said about 20 years ago:
    “They talked to the sister, the father and the mother
    With a microphone in one hand and a chequebook in the other
    The tears on her face
    The tears on her face
    You can put them back together with your paper and paste
    But you can’t put them back together
    You can’t put them back together”

  • At first you think maybe it is that they search for what “sells”.
    But I can’t explain the absurdity of a recent TV viewing experience.
    I rarely read a paper or watch TV anymore. I did catch a segment on Bush and Putin the other day.
    I thought it pretty interesting and was enjoying their informative conversation, until the scene was abruptly interrupted.
    Viewers were suddenly switched to the “breaking story” ….it had begun to snow. The cameras zoned in to an area where a few snowflakes were falling from the sky.
    The snowfall has begun we were solemnly informed.
    An official of some town or other appeared in order to inform us all that his municipality’s salt trucks had just been fueled up.
    Then, we were treated to the sight of a ruler placed vertically to the ground to show the inch or so of snow accumulation in southern Jersey.
    In disbelief, I hit the “power off” button.
    Wish I could have showed them that.

  • Cableguy

    Jeff Jarvis, if your young daughter was missing, you would want the media all over the story. It is a win/win for the family and the media. These stories also get high ratings. So what is your complaint? You want more stories on Bush’s supposedly lies?

  • Cableguy: I said I WANT them to cover the story and, in fact, do it more often for more exposure. The problem I have is with the exploitation of the families. And I’m confessing that I’ve been there, done that.
    And you are the kind of nonsequitorial closers.

  • Jeff, I understand what you’re saying. I’ve been on the other side of it. 30 years ago my 19 year old sister was a victim in a high-profile double murder. Of all the media contacts we had to field, precisely ONE reporter started out by expressing his sorrow for the situation. I had to run some of them off my parents property. Local TV crews decided it was good to video the juvenile cousin of the other victim having an epileptic fit in the parking lot before the memorial service.
    Oh – and precisely one reporter got an interview – guess which one.