September 20, 2011

Is “boring news event” an oxymoron?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 12:37 pm


Tourists who visited San Francisco on the afternoon of Monday September 19, 2011 were rewarded with a warm (Indian Summer?) day with clear blue sky that provided snap-shot shooters with postcard perfect conditions that brought Paul Simon’s song “Kodachrome” to mind. You don’t have to speak their language to know when a skyscraper has impressed some foreign travelers.

News Photographers who were at San Francisco’s BART Civic Center station to cover this week’s installment of the regularly scheduled No Justice No BART political demonstrations came away from the event with images that might have disappointed many of the photo editors in the area because the latest protest did not disrupt BART service and no arrests were made.

Pictures of the protesters handing out leaflets outlining their assertions about the BART Police Department made it seem like the demonstrators have achieved celebrity status and their efforts naturally drew a contingent of paparazzi to record their everyday activities for posterity.

The very fact that any blogger covering Monday’s “demonstration” has to ask if images of some mundane advocacy efforts are newsworthy may indicate that digital journalism is mature enough to face the same question that have been being asked at city desks for years: what is new?

According to hearsay evidence the concept of digital images was developed by some computer pioneers who worked on the second floor of their building and wanted to be able to tell if the coffee maker on the first floor had finished its chore. If those images are still available, they will have some historic value.

When Mario Savio leaped into the headlines with an extemporaneous speech almost fifty years ago, the citizens in Berkeley had a specific example that a cusp area where political activism and celebrity often overlap does exist.

The aim of political activists is to draw attention to a specific cause and so spokespersons faces a double edge sword when they start to become a certified celebrities. They can draw massive news coverage but they also risk drawing attention away from the cause they are working to achieve.

Meanwhile bloggers have to start thinking like photo editors.

If there are approximately three dozen people who cover activists handing out flyers does that mean that the photos have news value?

If bloggers are becoming concerned with questions of news value is that evidence that the phenomenon of citizen journalism is maturing?

Local TV stations have been accused of adopting an “if it bleeds; it leads” philosophy of journalistic judgment.

If a local event doesn’t produce eye catching dramatic images does it deserve play?

If the Internets are providing a venue for citizen journalists to cover issues that the national media ignore, doesn’t that mean that protests that don’t result in mass arrests deserve coverage?

Are the No Justice No BART protests getting coverage on Fox Views (AKA Fox News) Network?

What if the next No Justice No BART demonstration features an adorable kitten playing the Kingston Trio’s song “(Charlie on the )MTA” on a piano? Would an online video of that “go viral”? Would it be newsworthy? Would folks fwd that to their friends on Facebook? Would it help publicize the effort to disband the BART cops?

When it becomes obvious that without a large number of arrests an event loses news value, then some home-truth aspects of journalism start to become apparent.

Maybe before covering the next No Justice No BART event, we should read the classic short story “The Lady or the Tiger” to see if there is some subtle journalistic symbolism in it?

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