Ratings don't settle every argument


Rankings, numbers and stats.

Who cares, who cares and who cares?

Media columns care. Most, anyway. This one? Not so much.

Begging your indulgence this week, this is a column about this column that should've been penned two and a half years ago, when Mediaology launched.

Why a retroactive mission statement now? Feedback to this column has suggested that recent criticisms leveled at stations are invalidated by a single factor: Some criticized newscasts rock the ratings.

Ergo, supposedly: Counting eyeballs decides the argument. Quantity equals quality. Nah-nah-na-nah-nah: We Win.

Balderdash/poppycock/folderol (feel free to sub in stronger nouns I can't print here). Media critics are more than scorekeepers. They're social commentators examining how media impacts the culture. Whether that's achieved here is for readers to decide. That, at least, is the goal.

Rewinding to past columns:

Triumphing at 11 p.m. is irrelevant to KLAS-TV, Channel 8 possibly (and unintentionally) profiling minorities as criminals by stacking minority crime stories in a newscast. Nailing top Nielsen numbers for KSNV-TV, Channel 3 doesn't magically render their New Year's coverage any less aimless or pointless, perhaps only pumping up their ad rates.

Strong morning-show viewership doesn't excuse KVVU-TV, Channel 5's Amy Carabba for invading a woman's privacy on the air. Whatever their ratings, nothing ameliorates the often extreme approach of KTNV-TV, Channel 13, whose sensationalism aims to scare viewers.

Judging station quality by ratings is like measuring someone's worth by their vote tally for homecoming queen.

Most annoyingly, the numbers obsession feeds the media's "horse race" mentality that the public must endure every campaign season. Endless polls (the Nielsen ratings of politics) drive the discussion as who surged ahead and who lags behind become the be-all and end-all of civic discourse for many news outlets.

Conceptually -- forgive the delusions of grandeur -- Mediaology is patterned more as a localized version of CNN's "Reliable Sources," in which astute, veteran critic Howard Kurtz and guests deconstruct media behavior, rarely invoking ratings or circulation figures.

(Sunday's show tackled the impulse control issues of the media -- including CNN, NPR, CBS, NBC and Fox -- reporting the "death" of still-alive Rep. Gabrielle Giffords immediately after the Tucson shooting, and the itching to ascribe political motives to the shooter when facts were not yet in. That matters more than ratings.)

Though scintillating to some, turning personal, gossipy and catty also is unwelcome here, despite one reader who asked that this column address why one reporter wears striped blouses that make her look fat, and another reader who demanded a column about one anchor's cleavage display. Let's see how plainly I can put this ... I couldn't care less. (You do? Kindly titter among yourselves.)

Occasionally, Nielsen numbers are referenced here if they help make a larger point. Separate stories outside this column even address them entirely.

Mediaology's raision d'etre? Hell, no.

Disagree with a stance here? Give reasons, not ratings. Spout Nielsens? I'll likely think of late, great singer Harry Nilsson.

Do you really want to hear me croon, "She put de lime in de coconut"?

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

 

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