The Lament of a News Junkie

by Jonah Goldberg

I’m hearing from lots of folks annoyed with the fact that now even Fox has surrendered to live-coverage of the Zimmerman trial. I understand the complaint (I’ve already been bumped from two shows because of it). But this is an old tale. People forget that all of the news channels get comparatively low ratings. Even Fox, which is a cable news juggernaut, is not an overall ratings powerhouse. That’s because most people don’t watch cable news unless there’s some big breaking story or a dramatic event. Meanwhile, there are a core base of news junkies who pretty much only watch cable news (It’s a bit like NRO’s readership. A significant slice of our readers come only once a day. Another significant slice visits the site over a dozen times a day). These two groups are in tension.  For instance, when there’s a space shuttle disaster or an earthquake, the newsjunkies will grow tired of the 24/7 coverage because they actually watch 24/7 and want to hear about something new. But “normal” people will start checking in in droves and keep watching until the story plays itself out. They’ll turn from Judge Judy or ESPN to see if there are any new developments. Since there are so many more non-junkies than junkies, the networks are swamped with far more new customers than they lose.  The incentives are to ride the wave as much as possible. Imagine if for some reason tour buses start letting passengers off across the street from a diner. The regulars can’t stand all of the tourists swarming the place, making it uncomfortable and hard to find a seat, even forcing changes to the daily specials etc. But what do you expect the owner to do? Turn them away?

It’s not like the Zimmerman trial ain’t news. It’s certainly more newsy than the “poop cruise” CNN covered round the clock.  Fox is covering it because people — lots of people — are interested in it. Is it too much coverage? Maybe. But that’s partly due to the fact that too much was made of this case in the first place. And blame for that lies elsewhere. 

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