Two triggers of adrenaline for journalists are landing a scoop and, conversely, being scooped. Journalism is a competitive business, and the drive to outdo other news organizations keeps news publications and newscasts fresh with new material. Competition has an unglamorous side. Journalists constantly monitor each other to identify events that they missed and need to catch up on to be competitive. This catch- up aspect of the news business contributes to similarities in coverage, which scholar Leon Sigal calls the consensible nature of news. It also is called “pack” and “herd” journalism.
In the final analysis, news is the result of journalists scanning their environment and making decisions, first on whether to cover certain events, and then on how to cover them. The decisions are made against a backdrop of countless variables, many of them changing during the reporting, writing, and editing processes.
Media Counterpoint Are Police Tag-Alongs a Good Idea?
Television networks recognize police tag-alongs as a key ingredient in news magazine television shows. Ride-alongs are a low-budget, high-drama magnet for viewers who seek a front-row seat to realistic and exciting crime stories. But sometimes tag-alongs go bad—as when A&E network’s First 48 Hours trailed the cops raiding a Detroit home.
Police were searching for a suspect in a convenience store killing. An officer, gun drawn, either collided with the woman of the house, Mertilla Jones, or was jostled by her. Regardless, the officer’s gun went off and Mrs. Jones’ 7-year-old granddaughter,
Aiyana, asleep on a couch in the living room was shot and instantly killed.
The immediate questions were whether the A&E television crew factored into the tragedy. The cops had invited the A&E team along: Were the police conducting themselves differently because they knew the raid was being taped? People do play for the camera—to look better, to be more daring, but other times they may behave more cautiously because they know they are being watched. The answers regarding this particular case may never be known.
A Grandma’s Grief. A grandmother is comforted after granddaughter is killed by Detroit cop being filmed for A&E News Show
Producers of police tag-along shows defend their work as giving citizens valuable insights into police work. Many police departments note that tag-along shows help recruit young men and women to police work. Some political scientists say that the recording of police activities by nonpolice entities like television crews enhances police accountability to the public.
At the same time, cases can be made against these shows. In 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that media tag-alongs violate a citizen’s right to “residential privacy” when reporters follow cops into a home. In the Detroit raid, the A&E crew stayed outside when the cops drew weapons and stormed the house. Technically A&E
technically did not violate the law.
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