This post is about the Casey Anthony case, but it’s not really about the Casey Anthony case. It’s about the coverage of this case, cases like it, cases nothing like it and the cases we never hear about.
There seems to be some confusions about what is newsworthy. Those of us that have actually taken an intro to journalism class understand that there are established criteria to determine what is newsworthy. A story only needs to meet two of them. The Casey Anthony trial met the criteria of timeliness and human interest. It was newsworthy.
The saturation of coverage in this case was clearly ridiculous because that’s what the public wanted. This was no different from everything from political scandals to Lindsey Lohan to the new phenomenon of reality stars and people being famous for being famous. Perhaps the most under-covered story by the media is that the media is a business. Content is determined by ratings, website stats and readership numbers because those numbers determine the price of ad space. You must know this. Google ‘Tiger Woods’, click on a story, scroll to the comments and you’ll inevitably find comments that the story never should have been written in the first place. “Who cares? Don’t we have better things to worry about? Bla, bla, bla.” As if they didn’t know what the story was about when they clicked on the headline, and they don’t understand the simple concept of website traffic. Nancy Grace was trending on twitter last night because people who were fed up with the over-coverage expressed it by essentially live-tweeting HLN until midnight. But I’m the dumbass.
It’s like trying to find a McCain primary voter. He won, so we know a lot of people voted for him, but they’re nowhere to be found. They should probably stay missing for their own good. I submit that those who protest the loudest about these stories becoming entertainment are the ones most entertained by it. Stewing, snarking and feigned outrage is our newest pastime.
The throngs of voyeurs camped outside the courthouse were sick, but someone who could watch Cindy Anthony breakdown emotionally, then physically or learn the most basic and horrific facts of what happened to this child and not be moved is just as sick. We still don’t know what happened to this child. I won’t apologize for thinking she’s entitled to the truth being told.
I understand being annoyed that FNC, CNN, MSNBC or the networks were abandoning coverage of stories like the debt ceiling to solely cover this trial, but Nancy Grace, Jane Velez Mitchell and TruTV (aside from their reality shows) are by definition crime and punishment reporters. What else would they be talking about? And frankly, political junkies, we just came off of Weinergate. Spare me your above-it-allness, and watch your step getting down off that horse.
Change the channel or demand they change. This is the new media. It’s capable of covering whatever you’re interested in as in-depth as you want, but you have to let them know. You have to demand it.
WHY THIS CASE AND NOT THAT ONE?
Which brings us to the perennial discussion of why only rich, white missing or murdered people get coverage. It’s valid, but I believe exaggerated. I definitely don’t think it’s because reporters and the general public are purposely disregarding low-income and minority victims. Income definitely isn’t the main factor in peaking the public’s interest. Caylee Anthony, Jessica Lundsford and Dylan and Shasta Groene all came from lower-income families.
I think what makes them these monster stories is that they start out being the frantic search for a missing child. If we would have known Caylee Anthony was dead from day one it wouldn’t have been a big story. The key to finding missing children is media coverage, just ask Ed Smart. If you have a missing child you’re gonna go in front of any camera that will have you. I certainly don’t want to take that resource away. At best Elizabeth Smart would be an imprisoned bride to her abductor instead of the impressive and inspiring young woman we see today without the media coverage. Shasta Groene would be dead.
Of course there are missing children whose stories don’t get the coverage they should. The way to remedy that isn’t to not cover Caylee Anthony or Elizabeth Smart or to only talk about the issue when those stories are in the news. The key is for the concerned public to follow underreported cases through. Almost every missing child gets an Amber Alert nowadays. It’s really easy to sign up for wireless amber alerts for your area or follow Amber Alert on twitter or Facebook. If you see a story fizzle out before a case is resolved, then say something. If a story is getting too much coverage STOP WATCHING IT and definitely stop tweeting about it.
WHY DO CRIME STORIES MATTER?
The same reason any regretful incident matters, so we can try to understand it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. If the sensationalism bothers you I recommend Investigation Discovery over TruTV. It’s not as timely, but for the most part they focus on telling a victim’s story and deciphering why it happened. Their talking heads are fewer and not so damn noisy.
As human beings it’s also worthwhile to bear witness to the victim’s story, especially if it’s a victim that suffered in silence during their life. For a truly aware and engaged person these macabre stories offer valuable perspective. That perspective leads to gratitude and compassion. I believe that is a good thing.