Weekly Column: People who work in the media are deeply divided into two factions right now: those who think TV news operations have lost their minds with their coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and those believe there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to this Practically Perfect TV News Story that has held viewers spellbound for nearly two weeks and potentially launched a few new TV careers, despite a pesky lack of actual information. And while few things in this world are more painful than the realization that an estrangement has occurred between colleagues who for years have jogged along through life sharing the same views on the relative importance of TV news, the uselessness of overnight ratings, the urgency of attracting millennials (or at least viewers under 50) and how great House Of Cards is, the divide has been interesting to watch play out.
In the interest of accuracy, viewers actually have learned a lot watching coverage of the missing plane story. They now have useful information about the relative ease of boarding an international flight in Malaysia with a stolen passport, which may inform future vacation-making plans. Better still, they’ve learned where Malaysia is on a map, its proximity to Australia, and the depth of the Indian Ocean. They know how much they could get on the open market for a used Boeing 777. Security experts have told them they’re not alone in suspecting that a steward armed with an aisle-blocking beverage cart is not a terribly effective way to thwart a would-be plane hijacker during a pilot potty break. They now know what a “C block” is in the TV news biz thanks to Fox News star Megyn Kelly, who joked to NYT reporter Michael Schmidt, “Way to hold it right until the C block, Michael!” the other night when he was her guest — but waited to give her his scoop (that its first path-diverting turn was done by a computer system programmed in the cockpit) until later in her program so it would first break on his paper’s website.
Viewers love this story because it’s jammed with mystery, and pathos, and taps into their fear of flying — like Lost. So many had suggested it resembled the setup of the ABC serialized hit that a plan to screen the pilot during last weekend’s 10-year reunion panel at PaleyFest was scrubbed, out of consideration for the families of the missing passengers and crew. Last Sunday, CNN’s Don Lemon wondered, “Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural — we go to church, the supernatural power of God…people are saying to me, ‘Why aren’t you talking about the possibility — and I’m just putting it out there — that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?’ ” (more…)