Wednesday, January 23, 2008

News as Entertainment, Entertainment as News

Heath Ledger died yesterday. That is all that is known for sure right now. Yet, every 'news' report is leading with the 'story' today. Before the autopsy was even performed, speculation was reported as fact. Words were thrown around.


"Well, that's their job," a coworker said this morning. No, their job is to report what really happened. And no one knows that right now. It could take up to 10 days to get a toxicology report back. The ME has said the autopsy was inconclusive. Yet, you'll see and read reports over the next week about 'what really happened'. Yet none of it will be the whole story. Because they're rushing it out. They're talking to only one person at a time and then regurgitating that one person's point of view.

What happened to journalistic integrity? Fact checking and getting second sources and all of that? Some of it is the competition between the 24 hours news outlets. But what about the magazines? Will Entertainment Weekly and People and Us wait to start their articles until all the medical and forensic reports are in? Doubt it. I'd bet that the next issue of each will feature Heath Ledger on the cover.

***From Ad Age: NEW YORK ( -- People magazine's issue on newsstands Friday will be the only celebrity title this week with a cover story about the awful, but clearly biggest, news of the cycle: yesterday's discovery of Heath Ledger dead at 28. ***

And here's the tough question: is it really news? It's tragic for someone that young and talented to die. But young, talented people die on a daily basis and it doesn't even make a headline in a local paper. This goes hand in hand with the reporting about Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan. Is it really news? I don't think so. But there it is. They've been on a movie screen or been recorded singing and that makes them special.

Another coworker went to a funeral last night. A 15-year old girl made a bad decision about sneaking out of the house and was killed in a car accident. Sad. Tragic. I just Googled it and only one local television channel's website comes up. Not the local newspaper or the other three television stations.

A lot of people died last night. And a lot of people mourned last night for people who died in previous nights.