Not another Michael Jackson post: Analyzing Media Coverage

jackson hospital

It’s been well over a week since the death of entertainment superstar Michael Jackson. In terms of the 24-hour new cycle, a week is about 3 years. News turns over so quickly because it has to, since viewers now get their news outside of the morning newspaper and the evening newscast. Websites need to be constantly updated, cable news needs fresh subjects to beat to death and reporters need new things to tweet. Thus, it’s not surprising that the media bombarded our senses with coverage of Jackson’s death when the news first broke.

It didn’t even surprise me that the next day or two were devoted to coverage of the events surrounding the pop star’s death and to putting his life in perspective. For a star of his magnitude, I would expect this kind of coverage. After all, news of Jackson’s death affected most people in the Western world in some way. I could not, however, have predicted that Jackson would still be making front-page headlines.

Some people are starting to grow annoyed with the coverage. Here are some examples:

From Mark Knoller, CBS White House Correspondent, Twitter: “Who had a more consequential impact on the world: Michael Jackson or Robert McNamara. Who will we hear more about today & tomorrow.?” “What do you think the networks will lead with this evening? Obama in Russia, or preps for Michael Jackson memorial tomrrow?”

From Jake Tapper, Reporter, ABC News, Twitter: “remember how right after 9/11 all those media muckety-mucks said they wouldnt over-cover fluff and celebrity stuff anymore?”

Those are two pretty prestigious reporters throwing not-so-subtle hints to their employers to lay off the Michael Jackson coverage (this may also be so that they can move their own coverage up in the program, since both are covering President Obama’s visit to Russia). Since both are reputable reporters, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt in suggesting that they actually are fed up with the amount of Jackson coverage still being thrown our way by the media.

Then there is this video, which seems to sum up how some are beginning to feel about all of the coverage. It gets credence because it is from a Congressman:

I’m not sure the Congressman offered the most politically correct message in the video, but I think his point is clear: there are a lot of terrible things going on in the world that warrant media coverage, so why is one man, albeit an important one in the entertainment world, garnering so much attention?

Below is a a response from Don Lemon, an anchor for CNN (via Huffington Post):

don lemon

HOWARD KURTZ: Don’t you feel deep down that this is overdoing it?
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: No, I don’t feel it’s overdoing it. And I don’t — and when I hear people say that, I have to be very honest with you, Howie, I think it’s elitist. I don’t remember — I’m sure there was some criticism when there was the coverage of Princess Diana’s death, but I don’t think that there was this sort of criticism that we’re having with Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson is an accidental civil rights leader, an accidental pioneer. He broke ground and barriers in so many different realms in artistry, in pictures, in movies, in music, you name it. So, no, I don’t think it’s overkill.

KURTZ: Okay. He did all of those things. He also was accused of child molestation, and was a seriously weird person. But he has been dead for more than a week and we are still going almost wall-to-wall.

LEMON: Well, he has been dead for more than a week, yes, but Michael Jackson twice — well, once, I should say, he was acquitted of child molestation. The other time it was settled out of court.

KURTZ: Right.

LEMON: And if you talk to people who were involved in those cases, they don’t believe that he did it. So let’s put that aside.

The Huffington Post entry points to a Pew Research Center Study that found nearly two-in-three Americans felt that the media covered the story too much. But at the same time, 58% of those surveyed said they followed the Michael Jackson coverage either very closely or fairly closely. Furthermore, half of those surveyed said they thought the media struck the right balance between covering Jackson’s career and his scandal-filled life.

But there’s another reason that the media is covering Jackson so much, beyond the reasons Lemon stated above. Those reasons all come down to ratings and money. All one has to do is take a look at Twitter’s “Trending Topics,” which follows the subjects that are most tweeted. Two of the top subjects most-tweeted about are “Michael Jackson” and “MJ.” Nowhere on the list is President Obama, Russia, healthcare, etc. Clearly, Michael Jackson is still on the minds of the masses. People are tweeting about him at a rapid pace, with dozens of tweets coming down per minute.

Is this the most scientific way of finding out whether people are annoyed with the coverage? It definitely isn’t, but in my opinion, it’s a great indicator that news of the King of Pop is still intriguing to a lot of people, which is what, at the end of the day, the news organizations will want to deliver. Ratings=advertising dollars, so why would news organizations barrage its consumers with coverage of Obama in Russia when it’s a subject that won’t gain much traction? Over a million people registered for Jackson’s funeral, which is probably double the amount of people who even know Obama is in Russia.

Thus, it makes perfect sense to me that the media keeps churning out stories about Jackson. It’s an intriguing story that has a huge following. One of my journalism professors once told me that “sex, murder and food sell.”

I’m not sure which of those categories MJ fits into; perhaps all three. Or, maybe he belongs in a category all to himself, a category where the word “celebrity” is a vast understatement.

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