Michael Jackson’s death: Is TV still in charge?

Pretty sure everyone’s eyeballs deep in Michael Jackson coverage.

Here’s how the AP put it:

Michael Jackson, the sensationally gifted child star who rose to become the “King of Pop” and the biggest celebrity in the world only to fall from his throne in a freaskish series of scandals, died Thursday. He was 50.

Whew. Way to drop the whole story in the 32-word phrase between the subject and the verb. But that’s what inverted pyramid journalism does: tells as much of the story as quickly as possible so you can stop reading after a paragraph or two.

What interests me is not how quickly people heard, or even what they heard. I’m curious to know what they turned on to hear. Because where people go to get their news says more about the society than the speed, accuracy or depth of where they turned.

Here’s my gut reaction:

Most people probably “heard” through a non-traditional source. For example, I got an NPR update on my Twitter feed (OK, nerd alert). But then, to check it, I turned on the television. To CNN specifically, but the television.

Now my gut tells me that more people found out this way — either through traditional news outlets online or through social media sites like Twitter — than ever before. My gut also tells me that most people probably did the same thing: turn on the TV. TV was the main source.

So? What’s the point? Here’s the point: Internet media (even through “traditional” sources: N.Y. Times, CNN online, etc.) play second fiddle to television. That means that even though technology and social media and instant information are the darlings of our palm-sized world, it’s still television that remain the big banana. That also means that how television — regardless of the specific channel — tells the story sets the pace for everyone else.

This is pretty much what makes Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death still relevant after its initial release 24 years ago.

So, think about how you heard and what you did to find out. And let me know.


P.S.: It’s a shame that Jackson’s death comes so close to Farrah Fawcett’s death. It’s also interesting to note that her death is largely pushed aside because of it. But there’s an explanation. The nation has been grieving Farrah for a while now. We got a documentary. We got continual coverage when we wanted it. Michael Jackson’s death was sudden.

So even though cancer is an “important” national story, a shocking death to a controversial figure — oddity, celebrity, and timeliness in journalism parlance — will always take the lead.


6 thoughts on “Michael Jackson’s death: Is TV still in charge?

  1. MJ perpetuates the myth that it always happens in 3’s, Ed McMahon, Farrah, and now Michael. I actually saw it on the internet, turned on CNN, then Fox, then went back to the internet, so my story is a bit more circular. You hit the nail on the head, tv is still the big banana, and I think we are a generation away, at least, before that changes. For those of us using the newer technology, we’re at the age we need reading glasses to follow it on the palm device, so tv wins.

  2. When Monica told me, my first commitment was that it happens in 3’s. I went to the internet for conformation and clarification. I was watching something on TV that I didn’t want to change from…

  3. I got the news from 2 text messages. I also received a text about Farah’s death (I already knew that). I was at a restaurant with 20 TV’s on and… nothing. I guess the sports crowd has nothing to report on MJ. I came home and looked on Yahoo to confirm this.
    Another text told me about Jeff Goldblum dying. If that’s true, I have yet to confirm it.
    I did, however, turn on Fox and maybe CNBC to quickly get the scoop that his heart stopped. It’s good to know it’s not still beating, seeing how he’s dead and all.
    So is Mr. Goldblum dead?

  4. Here’s my nerd alert: I went on the 24 forums and a thread stating he was rushed to the hospital was the first thing I saw. I then alerted the newsroom (because if he died, we’d have to change our layout) and then I looked on E! Online. We had CNN on in our newsroom already, but they didn’t have anything on it at the time I found out.
    I love being in a newsroom full of cynical people when a big news story breaks out. Where else will you hear, “I hope he dies before deadline.”?

  5. I was at work at Olive Garden when one of the servers came in the kitchen and told us that guests at one of her tables told her. My first reaction was SHUT UP. Not because I have been a loyal fan of MJ (except for when I had a Thriller poster on my wall in kindergarten and followed the dancing video with the creepy dancers in it with Michael wearing his his red leather jacket in my living room), but because it came from no where. Of course everyone at work was reminiscing at that point, and I was amazed at how fast people jump on a bandwagon when someone dies (is that rude?). We have two TVs at work, one was on sports and the other on CNN. Took a few peaks at it and saw that he was definitely dead. Many people were saying how bad things happen in 3. I don’t believe in superstition, so whatever. I am sure there were thousands of people that died yesterday all over the world that were either somewhat known or not in their own little way and no one cares to mention them.

    PS: Jeff Goldblum is not dead. It was just a rumored story created online at this site: FakeAWish.com. Consequently, I found online that “Jeff Goldblum dead” was rated in the top 5 most popular google searches yesterday.

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