'Cable news is destroying our society'

Some things are closely watched because they are important -- you know, war, pestilence, presidential elections, terrorist attacks, the economy.

Some things assume a level of importance because they are closely watched -- you know, Anna Nicole Smith, the Duke lacrosse team, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Al Sharpton and O.J. Simpson, just to name a few.

Right now it is tempting to straddle my high horse and turn up my highly trained professional nose for news and sneer at the media hordes that stampeded to the steps of the Regional Justice Center armed to the teeth with cameras, videocameras, microphones and notebooks, but no. Hell no.

We were right in the thick of the coverage of O.J. Simpson's armed memorabilia grab, arrest, bail hearing and departure. We had half a dozen reporters and half a dozen photographers scrapping for every nugget of news, every major or minor scoop, every camera angle to give our readers all the facts available. This is our turf and no out-of-town media hounds are going to come in and beat us at our own game.

We devoted extra space to the story and played it prominently and unapologetically on the front page. In 15 minutes a reader could get all the information that was doled out breathlessly over 36 hours by the cable news channels.

It is the kind of story people talk about, parsing the facts and contemplating the odds for comeuppance. This story was not just about some celebrity in trouble with the law. It had that added element of the potential for just deserts finally being served.

More than one observer noted that Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion, not murder.

Throw into the mix the rich irony that the family of murder victim Ron Goldman had just published Simpson's bizarre faux fiction "If I Did It" -- and the fact this incident provided considerable publicity and surely added to the number of books that will be sold. Plus, since the families of Goldman and Simpson's slain ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, have a $38 million wrongful death judgment against Simpson -- that's how the rights to the book were acquired in the first place -- any of the memorabilia he might've recovered could be taken to help cover that debt.

Not only did we have exhaustive coverage in the newspaper each morning, we also tried to keep our customers alerted throughout the day with the latest breaking news. We sent e-mail news flashes to all who have signed up for what we call the eRJ and posted these flashes atop our Web site at reviewjournal.com.

(You can sign up for the free eRJ on the front of our Web site. There is a thorough menu of information you can subscribe to that complements our printed edition by keeping you up to date during the day. We also alert you to items of interest to you that are in the newspaper but you might've overlooked. This is accomplished by entering key words -- such as your name or your company or your hobby. When these appear in the paper, you get an e-mail alert.)

We sent a news flash when Simpson was arrested Sunday morning. We sent another when bail was set. And still another when he was released from jail.

The latter was the last straw for one executive at one of the major gaming companies. He e-mailed, "You're kidding, right? Are you going to update his every move? Please stop this insanity."

I jokingly replied that O.J. was seen going to the restroom.

He quickly answered, "I was half expecting the Flash to report as much. What a complete waste of time. How sad is it ... hundreds of TV stations probably used the words '... and in other news, the president of the United States has appointed someone to serve as the top law enforcement officer in the nation.' Cable news is destroying our society."

He is right. And when someone asks me why we stoop to cover the tabloid story of the day, I answer: If you are not interested, turn the page. On the next page you'll find "important" news being watched. It's your choice.

One you don't get with cable news.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.