Why coverage of funeral rites is bad tv

Ok, so the most powerful religious leader in the world dying: it's a big deal. I get it. But now, CNN and BBC have turned into The Pope Channel: All Pope, All The Time.

Which, I guess, clearly demonstrates the fact that tv is a lousy medium for covering ongoing events unless something of importance is happening, continually. It worked on 9-11, because 9-11 couldn't have been better tv if someone sat down and scripted it. There was an incredibly well-drawn dramaturgy, ending with the collapse of the towers.

The death of the pope, however, is lousy tv, given that it's sort of in the nature of the event that nothing more of any relevance will happen between the death of it's protagonist, and the endpoint of the no-doubt drawn-out selection process of a new pope. The protagonist is dead. That sort of kills the action right there.

Now, I'm not saying that I'm sorry that there weren't more explosions involved in the death of the pope. What I'm saying is that the reporting that the television media can produce of such an event, when it is ongoing, is, in its nature, lousy. Ill-prepared, unanalyzed raw material flung at us, ridiculous interview situations where the interviewer tries to draw out time by getting the interview object to ruminate on life and death, where every little detail of the ritualised death of the pope is picked over and over and over by the vultures, thrilled that something is happening. Something which will allow them to keep the attention of the public for a little while longer.

Tv news is suited for covering sharply delineated events. Things that happen, and then cease to happen. It is very bad at covering ongoing processes. I mean, when was the last time you heard the story "millions of children worldwide are working for practically no wage in sweatshops in order to produce goods for the globalised marketplace. Western capitalism as we know has produced an indentured workforce in the third world. Here's Carl with the weather." For some reason, the major news networks haven't understood exactly how little happens following the death of a pope.

The pope died. Thanks for informing me. Thanks for spending a few hours on a retrospective. Thanks for mentioning it again in your hourly news updates for the next couple of days. Anything beyond that, I can, and should, read it in a newspaper if I want to.


Blogger Gaute said...

The whole experience is very similar to the American news medias 24/7 live coverage of Reagan's lit-de-parade, only interrupted by meaningless interviews with everyone who ever met him briefly in real life.

The media's news output is expanding, while the number of events in the world stays more or less constant over time. Because of this, the criteria for newsworthyness are constantly lowered, while media workers become ever more grateful for opportunities to fill air time with easy-to-produce retrospectives and ill-informed speculations on the historical importance of current events.

April 06, 2005 3:02 pm  
Blogger Jill said...

Yeah, I agree, and yet having been in the US instead of in Norway for the last two weeks (OK, so I'm home now) I think the pope is covered very differently there, or just more, not just because the media needs content but also because there really are so many Catholics there. He was their leader, ya know?

Funny, though, how US media kept mentioning how great he was in fighting communism and yet they never seemed to mention that he was vehemently against the invasion of Iraq.

April 07, 2005 9:41 am  

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