If it bleeds, it leads.
That's not my saying. I'm not that cold and callous.
Nope. That's the marching orders that nearly every TV station in the nation follows. Why? Conventional wisdom indicates that ratings increase when news stations report on crime, violent or otherwise. This is why the first block of programming on any local newscast is generally a who's-who's guide to the day's arrests — feuding gangbangers, manic meth heads, hit-and-runners, and an assortment of twisted fucks.
Sometimes though, the newscast will ditch the locals and focus on some other tragedy, whether it's a plane crash, a terrorist attack, or some sort of mass shooting. And more often than not, these stations have no qualms airing whatever horrible footage they have. Sometimes they offer a disclaimer that seems more like a not-so-subtle teaser, and sometimes they don't. But if they have the footage, they'll air it.
Except, it would seem when it comes to the death of one of their own.
As you know, a disgruntled former employee of a Virginia TV station gunned down a reporter and a cameraman while they were conducting a live interview, and the nation as a whole recoiled. But when the video of the shooting began popping up on social media, all of a sudden members of the media from across the nation began to urge the public not to watch the video. This plea only intensified when the killer's own video of the shooting hit the internet.
So why the call for restraint from the typically unrestrained world of local TV?
After all, they've never been timid before.
Thanks to local news, we have gotten a look at a shooting at a school board meeting
A man shooting at a bus
filled with passengers.
A shooting at a gas station
An officer shooting a struggling suspect
The shooting of a knife-wielding man.
And another knife-wielding man
. And another
That last one was took place right here in the Lowcountry and the shooting was shown on Live 5 News.
And then there are the tragic deaths of Walter Scott and Marley Lion
. The respective shootings that took their lives were shown on local TV, and in the case of Scott, splashed across the front page of our respected daily.
I do not fault these stations for airing the footage of either Scott nor Lion, nor the P&C. We did more or less the same thing. Both were newsworthy to the Charleston community and both led to arrests, and in the Lion case, convictions.
Now some might argue that this is a new trend, something new to TV, and that it is in part driven by an increasing need to sensationalize every story and in part by the widespread use of camera phones and surveillance cameras. They are wrong
In fact, TV has been showing shootings since television first went mainstream. Take for instance a 1963 TODAY show video
showing the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Clearly, airing shootings on TV is not an aberration. It's not a taboo. It's in the very template for crafting a successful TV news show.
As for those newsmen and newswomen who have suddenly developed an aversion to these kind of horrific videos, I expect that sense of righteous indignation and moral fortitude to remain in place when the next tragedy is caught on film.
For some reason, I don't think it will.