A variable affecting what ends up being reported as news is called the news hole. In newspapers the news hole is the space left after the advertising department has placed all the ads it has sold in the paper. The volume of advertising determines the number of total pages, and generally, the bigger the issue, the more room for news. Newspaper editors can squeeze fewer stories into a thin Monday issue than a fat Wednesday issue.
In broadcasting, the news hole tends to be more consistent. A 30-minute television newscast may have room for only 23 minutes of news, but the format doesn’t vary.
When the advertising department doesn’t sell all seven minutes available for advertising, it usually is public-service announcements, promotional messages, and program notes—not news—that pick up the slack. Even so, the news hole can vary in broadcasting. A 10-minute newscast can accommodate more stories than a 5-minute newscast; as with newspapers, it is the judgment of journalists that determines which events make it.
A news hole, of course, is a nonissue on the Internet.
6.5.2 News Flow 1. Objective: Outline the conditions that control the news flow
Besides the news hole, the news flow varies from day to day. A story that might be displayed prominently on a slow news day can be passed over entirely in the competition for space on a heavy news day.
On one of the heaviest news days of all time—June 4, 1989—death claimed Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, a central figure in U.S. foreign policy; Chinese young people and the government were locked in a showdown in Tiananmen Square; the Polish people were voting to reject their one-party communist political system; and a revolt was under way in the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan. That flow of major nation- rattling events preempted many stories that otherwise would have been considered news.
Heavy news days cannot be predicted. One would have occurred if there had been a confluence on a single day of these events: Hurricane Katrina, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion, the death of Osama bin Laden, the conviction of Michael Jackson’s physician, the Japanese tsunami nuclear disaster, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford, and the 3,000th U.S. combat death in Afghanistan.
In a broader sense, an issue like global warming with the future of the planet at stake can end up neglected. In 2012, for example, coverage of health care reforms, war in Afghanistan, and the presidential election squeezed out climate change as an issue in U.S. news media.
6.5.3 News Staffing
Another variable affecting news is staffing. News coverage is affected by whether reporters are in the right place at the right time. As referenced earlier, newsworthy event in Nigeria, such as terrorist attacks, may receive little attention on U.S. television if the network correspondents for Africa are occupied with a natural disaster in another African country. A radio station’s city government coverage will slip when the city hall reporter is on vacation or if the station can’t afford a substitute reporter at city hall.
Case Study Penn State Scandal
The sex abuse scandal that rocked the mighty Penn State University football program in 2011 was, in part, a journalistic failure. Gary Sinderson, a long-time television reporter who covered the university, had heard whispers for years that defensive coach Jerry Sandusky had been abusing young boys. But, he explains, it was a story that reporters couldn’t get to.
In part, Sinderson blames economic restraints from Cox Media, the chain owner of his station. Corporate downsizing squeezed the news budget at WJAC to the point that rarely could Sinderson do more than quick stories requiring only minimal legwork. At WJAC’s Penn State bureau, Sinderson was “a one-man band, expected to crank out several stories a day.”
After years of rumors, the Sandusky story finally broke. Sara Ganim of the Harrisburg Patriot-News was tipped about a secret grand jury investigation. Ganin pieced together information from years of covering Penn State and the sources she had developed. Also, the Patriot-News gave Ganin time to pursue the story.
Ex-Penn State football coach Sandusky gets at least 30 years for sex abuse, denies wrongdoing
The Sandusky sex saga, according to the grand jury indictment, went back 18 years to incidents with boys as young as 8 in campus showers and at Sandusky’s home. When Sandusky was indicted, even before a jury trial could be organized, he was deleted from the Penn State football roster. So was legendary head coach Joe Paterno. The university president was fired. Fans rioted in the streets. Others held vigils against child molestation.
Until Ganin’s first account in print, the story had been hard-to-pin down. For Sinderson at WJAC, that was an insurmountable hurdle: “I didn’t have the time to get the needed verification to move the story ahead or to convince my bosses it’s not a rumor but a real story.” If journalists, including Sinderson and Ganin, had the resources to go after the story earlier, a stop might have been put to Sandusky’s serial molesting—or, had he been innocent, the reporting could have cleared the cloud of grapevine chatter that was trailing Sandusky.
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