The Penn State Scandal: Is It Over Yet?

Posted on November 25, 2011 by

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I like the idea of  having access to a wide range of news sources. Before there was 24-hour, cable network news, you had the evening news. If you missed that broadcast you were presented with one of two options:  Ask someone about what you missed;  Wait for tomorrow’s broadcast. For the most part, there was simply no news-on-demand options. Whether it’s  radio, television, newspaper, or internet (social media included), today we have the capability to “view” news as it happens; staying abreast of what’s going on around the world.  So, having said all that, what exactly is my problem? Try weak content and slow news cycles. Am I being too vague? Okay then. How’s this for being specific:  I am officially burnt out on hearing about the Penn State scandal!

Everyday, for close to three weeks, the news media has managed to find something not-so-new to report about regarding this scandal. And now, thanks to Bob Costas, the Penn State scandal will Bob Costas, right, with Jerrry Sandusky's lawyer, Joe Amendola, on "Rock Center with Brian Williams" on NBC. Costas interviewed Jerry Sandusky by telephone.continue to warrant 24- hour news coverage for at least another 30 days. Of course, the only exception to this rule is if something more scandalous or catastrophic takes place between now and then. No, I’m not being insensitive. I have much sympathy for the involved victims. Abuse in any form or fashion should never be tolerated. Anybody directly or indirectly involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.  Simply stated, I have a tendency to get annoyed whenever the media goes beyond reporting a story/scandal and begin offering analysis, acting as if that particular event is somehow unique. I could be wrong but I don’t find the Penn State scandal to be that unique.  This overall theme is too familiar. Man in position of power and  authority abuses power to obtain desired outcome.  A trail of nameless, faceless, powerless victims are haphazardly strewn about. The chain-of-command is content to look the other way as long as the victimizer continues to get results. Unfortunately, once the truth gets out, the involved parties plead ignorance and immediately launches a search for a suitable scape goat. Stated another way, college football is big business. As long as a coach and the star athletes  are winning, they will get a free pass every time!  That leaves the following question: “Is the Penn State scandal really news?” Wasn’t it 18 months ago when the Grand Jury first launched an investigation against the main culprit, Jerry Sandusky?  Over the years, hasn’t there been whispers and complaints regarding his questionable conduct? Better yet, in the wide world of athletics, how many scandals would be uncovered if all levels were subjected to this level of scrutiny?

I suspect broadcast news has become a victim of its own success and excess. There are countless news-entertainment shows. Want your news with a liberal slant? There’s a network for that! Do you prefer to get your news covered in conservatism? There’s a network for that! Do you have A.D.D and find “serious” news coverage too boring and you need elements of humor sliced in? Then pretend-journalist, Jon Stewart has just the show for you.  Either way, the intense competition to be first on the “scene,” breaking the big story, presents its own unique set of challenges.

Sometimes it seems as if there isn’t enough “news” to go around. No other time in television history has the typical viewer been inundated with a myriad of broadcast news options. After one network breaks a major story the other networks, within seconds, are covering the same story. As a result, given the sheer volume of news broadcasts it doesn’t take too before that late-breaking piece is being stretch out beyond its shelf-life. Unless something more salacious or scandalous takes place  a “news vacuum” begins to develop. As a result,  during this slow news cycle networks begins to substitute “fluff for facts” as a way of compensating for reduced content.

In conclusion, the broadcast news media could benefit from experiencing a paradigm shift in how they choose to report the news. Between traditional and digital news sources the general public is immersed in information to the point of drowning, yet we seem to be less informed. Is it because the news media is content to do the thinking for us? Mentioning the Penn States scandal was merely an example of how the news media vacillates between reporting the news to offering opinions and analysis about the story. Even after dissecting the story from every angle imaginable there is still the need to extend the topic well past its useful shelf life. There’s nothing wrong with balanced panel discussions and debates. However, there’s something wrong when people are punished for not agreeing with the media’s established consensus. For example,  when former Penn State football player, Franco Harris, spoke out in support of Joe Paterno, he ended up losing his job. Was this fair? No. However, we can expect more of the same as more journalists aspire to become celebrities with own shows, cramming their own views and ideologies down the public’s throats. For stories that are controversial or scandalous there is very little room for a journalist to present their opinions while minimizing unbiased facts. Both sides of a story must be presented. Reducing the number of redundant news shows would minimize that infamous “news vacuum.” As a result, there won’t be a many slow news cycles or the need to  substitute fluff for facts.

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