Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Candy vs. Vegetables

"No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press. "

-- Amartya Sen, 1998 Nobel Prize winner in Economics
(Motto of Watching Washington)

If you saw any news coverage of Secretary of State Condi Rice's trip to Darfur, you probably saw as much coverage of how guards mishandled journalists as you did reporting on the genocide there.

Nicholas Kristof laments in the New York Times how news has become focused on celebrity trials and divorces instead of issues affecting huge parts of the world:

"According to monitoring by the Tyndall Report, ABC News had a total of 18 minutes of the Darfur genocide in its nightly newscasts all last year - and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings. NBC had only 5 minutes of coverage all last year, and CBS only 3 minutes - about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths. In contrast, Martha Stewart received 130 minutes of coverage by the three networks."

When Martha Stewart warrants five times as much coverage as a genocide -- you have to ask yourself about the state of the fourth estate.

It could be worse. Mr Kristof points out that the Michael Jackson trial generated 55 times as many stories as the Darfur genocide.

The media too often hides behind the excuse of giving the people what they want. Maybe we need to take the advice of journalism professor Salma Ghanem. She suggests the media give the people what they need. (NYT, HT: Romensko) [Photo Credit: Library of Congress]

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