Coverage of O.J. sentencing should be thought out


Adjust the acronym: O.J.? Means "Over, Jack."

At 9 a.m. Friday, barring future behind-bars drama, The Saga of Orenthal James Simpson finally climaxes -- more accurately, disintegrates -- in a Las Vegas courtroom.

Despite a worldwide yeah-so? shrug to his trial and October conviction on multiple felony counts, his sentencing will generate headlines, though reporting will feel more obligatory than orgasmic, as when the media throbbed with animal lust during Simpson's titanically covered 1995 trial.

Local stations will deploy pig-on-you-know-what coverage all over a sentence that could spell life in prison for the AARP-age Simpson. But contextual coverage? Does this ring a (repetitive) bell?:

"And now, reactions!" ... "More reactions after the break!" ... "Even more reactions later in the broadcast!" As in: "The justice system worked/failed" (lawyers) ... "He got shafted" (Simpson loyalists) ... "He got what he deserved" (Simpson detractors). Toss in legal analysts: "He got more time than we expected" ... "He got less time than we expected" ... "He got exactly what we expected."

Rinse and repeat. Maybe kick in familiar footage of a cell like the one O.J. will kill time in. And that's ... it?

More can be mined to carry coverage beyond O.J. R.I.P., infusing relevance and dimension. And not every angle need be locally sourced with the story anchored in Vegas:

What factors shrank Simpson from national obsession to irrelevant afterthought over 13 years? After polarizing the races and magnifying the perceived inequality between black and white justice in the first trial, how does Simpson's final act fit into a country about to inaugurate its first black president? Do special hardships await a convict entering prison at age 61? Does Las Vegas get a criminal justice credibility bump for accomplishing what Los Angeles -- derided for sending celebrity defendants limo-riding back to their mega-mansions -- didn't? Did the media, embarrassed by past excesses, intentionally restrain itself in L'Affair O.J. Part Deux, or simply follow the lead of the public's disinterest?

A "Nightline"-style approach, perhaps, but a departure with potential dividends.

Combining Channels 3, 5, 8 and 13, there are 22 hours of news broadcast each weekday, stories relentlessly rotated, recycled and regurgitated.

Local news isn't "60 Minutes" or "Dateline." Or even "Inside Edition." Depth isn't encoded in its DNA. But with ratings receding in Google America as Gen-Tech viewers embrace alternative news sources, exacerbated by a crashing economy (the same miseries torturing print media, sending circulation into freefall), rethinking is required -- make that screamingly necessary -- to leap off this perpetual hamster wheel.

Ratings reversals could ride on explanatory journalism and thoughtful context, rather than headline-hammering and fact-flogging.

No one wants to see Vegas viewers eventually declare that it's Over, Jack.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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