The Michael Jackson media circus reminded me of something I thought of a while back. Remember the Anna Nicole Smith nonsense over here estate and custody of her children? Well in the wake of her death I created a formula called the Anna Nicole Smith Inverse News Quality Index (© Nick Farrantello 2009). I think it also fits for Jackson. It works like this – The amount of air time that a particular news program gives to such stories (like Anna Nicole or Jackson) is inversely equal to the quality of that particular news show's overall performance. Not just its performance in covering Anna or Jackson, its performance covering all news. If you are listening to a station that is devoting all it's time to Jackson then (when it comes to news) that station probably blows. If the station you’re listening to doesn’t give the Jackson story much air time then that station is a quality new outlet. I believe that this relationship between air time and how reliabile and accuracy a particular news program is can be quantifiably charted , minute to minute. Although, I have no idea how to do that.
Here is the reasoning behind this formula. You see, beyond the reporting of Jackson’s death and one or two follow-up stories about what becomes of his estate, the Jackson story has no news content. A story has news content dependent on how many people it directly affects. If it impacts a lot of people’s lives then it’s an important news piece. Now, I know you are saying “but this story does impact people’s lives. Millions of people loved Jackson.” That may be true. Millions of people are interested in Jackson but almost no one will really truly be affected by Jackson. The only people really affected by Jackson's death are his kids, his family and maybe the people who own property around Neverland Ranch. But that’s it. In contrast if , lets say, congress passes a law that changes the tax code in the US then millions of people truly are affected and so that is a newsworthy story.
Here’s the funny thing. Stories like these, that are unimportant and mealy titillating, can acuallybe very useful. As a result of Jackson’s death, at this moment, media outlets all over the world have a clear choice. 1) They can run stories that are not newsworthy about Jackson and get ratings or 2) They can continue with their normal schedule, ignoring any further Jackson stories and maybe not get the ratings that they would like.
Moments like these can tell you which news shows are doing a good job and which are not. It tells you what’s more important to a particular news show, its ratings or its integrity. Take this moment to be aware of how much your favorite news network is covering the Jackson stuff. You know the one with the team of Jackson Special commentators and the news recaps scrolling across the bottom of the screen. That station might be blowing it. Take a second and surf the competitor’s station to see how many stories they are doing. If that hour long show you hate with that boring host is not talking about Jackson at all, maybe it’s time to rethink where you are getting your news from. Maybe boring is better.