Monday, April 22, 2013

Why Being Popular May Not Be Important

     Once upon a time, when my daily job was to deliver news on the radio, I would check a variety of websites to see what the most popular stories were.  It was a way to make sure that my editorial judgment was in line with what my listeners were actually interested in. But, sometimes, I had to veto the popular vote and ignore the most popular story of the day.
     I rationalized my vetoes on the theory that most of the listeners had already heard about the most popular story of the day, and would also benefit from hearing other stories that they had not come across. But, in some cases, I just didn't think most popular equated to most newsworthy.
     You can easily guess on most days what the lead story is going to be on the national news. Today, for example, it will be the formal charges filed against the suspect in the Boston marathon bombings. That's my prediction as this is written, barring anything major occurring between now and the evening news.
     You might also be able to guess what the most popular story of the day has been for most of the past 24 hours. The Boston bomber is in the chase, but most people want to read more about Reese Witherspoon's disorderly conduct arrest.  I'm not sure what that says about us. Perhaps, it's just that we're humans, still interested in rubber-necking at accidents and gossiping over the back fence.
     When I was a practicing journalist, people would occasionally ask me why I didn't report on this or that story. And, inevitably, the answer would be that the listener just wasn't interested.  If cable news channels have shown us anything, it's that people want to watch news that interests them, not news that should interest them. On the same news cycle that chronicled Ms. Witherspoon's troubles, readers could have learned about the Taliban kidnapping a helicopter crew or about a man killing four people in Washington State. Both of those were in the top ten, right next to "news" about Kardashians.
     I think I'm glad I don't have make those kind of decisions anymore.