Gossip news reflects viewer interest, ratings

Nancy Grace’s new gossip show masquerades as a news show, deceiving viewers.

Jeff Koch, Writer

As television news ratings keep dropping, cable news has an ace up their sleeve.

Nancy Grace, southern belle and broadcaster for CNN Headline News, is the poster girl for the newest trend in TV news that I’ll refer to as “gossip-news.” She is not the only such reporter, but she is the most successful, and the most appalling. She debuted her show “Swift Justice” this month in which she plays judge to small-claims court cases — minus the robe, gavel, “your honor’s” and official legal credentials. Her second murder-mystery novel just became a New York Times best seller. Her talk show, however, specialises in the exploitation of its guests.

This is not “breaking news” coverage. This is disaster tourism. This is tragedy profiteering. This is the lowest common denominator in reporting, and it is despicable.
Wherever there is a kidnapping, rape or triple homicide, Nancy Grace will be there to capitalize on the tragedy of the human experience. Whether it is the burnout of Lindsay Lohan or the ancient history of the heartbreaking Natalee Holloway murder, nobody can beat a dead horse as thoroughly or as efficiently as Miss Grace.

We are used to TV shows pandering to the schadenfreude interests of the American population. Let’s face it: some people love to watch other people’s lives shatter and fall apart. Daytime talk shows inform us who is or is not the father. The show “Cheaters” hires private investigators to discover a cheating spouse, then films the gruesome public confrontation from multiple angles, and the list goes on.

Never before, though, has such a display gone under the guise of a news program. Nancy Grace and her ilk profit from the misfortunes of others and call on “freedom of the press” to justify their lowlife-pandering snuff through the airwaves. As a journalism major, and therefore the larval form of a future reporter, this disgusts me.

Even the venerable Oprah has gotten in on the act. In a recent episode this summer, the lone survivor in a tragic boat accident was a guest on the show. The capsizing killed three men, two of whom were former NFL stars, making the incident a very public one.

Survivor Nick Schuyler was accused by Oprah of wanting to profit from the experience, based on accusations by the victims’ families and on his recently published book recounting the accident. The irony is totally lost on Oprah — she herself brought Schuyler onto the successful daytime talk show, effectively helping him accomplish exactly what she is accusing him of.

TV journalists and talk show hosts are getting into the habit of exploiting human tragedy for the sake of ratings. News coverage should be about reporting on tragedy because the public needs to be informed, not so we can pull up a chair and enjoy the show.

At the end of the day, however, we have no one to blame but ourselves. These shows exist because they garner ratings. People love to watch Nancy Grace. Ratings are the only thing that matter to these networks. So when watching TV, let us remember what we are to set our minds upon: good things, noble things, trustworthy things. And in doing so, let’s avoid the vapid gossip shows that pollute the airwaves.

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