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Focus On Footage

Hate to break it to you, but you're not going to get the tried-and-true examples of media "wretched excess" critique here today.

Too easy. If that's what you're in the mood for, why don't you try here or here.

Nah, today we're looking at the Curious Case of Andrew Meyer, the University of Florida student who was tasered at a John Kerry event yesterday. As of this writing, it's been covered in 502 different news Web sites – or at least the news-related sites that Google News steers people towards – including the . (Don't know about you, but the AGI is the source I turn to when American college students are electrocuted by the police.)

And yes, truth be told, it's posted prominently on the homepage.

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According to the Associated Press story:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - A University of Florida student was Tasered and arrested after trying angrily and repeatedly to ask U.S. Senator John Kerry about the 2004 election and other subjects during a campus forum. Tuesday morning, a judge ordered the student released from jail on his own recognizance.
Videos of Monday's incident posted on several Web sites show officers pulling Andrew Meyer, 21, away from the microphone after he asks Kerry about impeaching President Bush and whether he and Bush were both members of the secret society Skull and Bones at Yale University.
But rather than have this be a piece about Media Overkill, it's more a post about how the existence of video transforms a lower-case story into a higher-case STORY. In the case of some knuckleheads online, video alone makes them a story. And it's a phenomenon that completely predates YouTube, though YouTube has definitely ratcheted it up.

Footage made high school hazing a national crisis back in 2003.

Footage forced Trent Lott to step down at Senate Majority Leader.

Footage took down an entrenched southern incumbent Senator.

Footage makes mini-furry celebrities out of squirrels and bears.

Footage made Danny DeVito almost relevant there for a day or two last year.

And these are just the first to come to mind.

In 21st Century MediaLand, there needs to be a new threshold for what constitutes 'news.' Once primarily used to support a newsworthy story, footage is now being used as a substitute for newsworthiness itself. Let's take the Kerry/Taser story. It's basically a college prank played on a former presidential candidate, maybe amounting to a 2 or 3 on a news merit scale from 1 to 10. But add the goofy video and it gets upgraded to a 6 or 7. News editors or producers shouldn't allow the mere existence of footage to break the newsworthiness barrier.

No, we haven't quite gotten to the point where uploading video of a tree falling in the woods becomes news – "Look! It made a sound!" Not yet.

But if there hadn't been video of the taser event to carpetbomb the cable networks with… there's no way this story is any more than a two sentence mention in a wire copy story.

Ironically enough, the AP story ends with a description of Andrew Meyer's personal website:

The site also has what is called a "disorganized diatribe" attributed to Meyer that criticizes the Iraq war, the news media for not covering the conflict enough and the American public for paying too much attention to celebrity news.
Congrats, Andrew. You, your behavior and your footage has ended up derailing the news media from covering the stories you find more important.
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