Tonight On The News: Cats On Fire!

(AP / CBS)
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg comments on what he calls "the YouTube-ization of news."

What does that mean, exactly? That the news is trending towards arresting images instead of traditional stories – stuff like footage of teenage girls beating each other up, for example, something Steinberg saw on CNN. (A similar story made the "Evening News" in January.)

"I'm not decrying this," writes Steinberg. "There is too much decrying in this business as it is. You have to give your audience what it wants. Put the slop where the pigs can get at it. But we should at least be aware of what's happening, before we wake up one day and Katie Couric is leading the 'CBS Evening News' with a video of a cat being set on fire."

It's hard to take seriously Steinberg's claim that he's not decrying this alleged development in light of the slop/pigs metaphor, but his point is worth thinking about. In order to compete, will news programs increasingly shift towards the kinds of shocking videos that drive traffic online?

I have my doubts – after all, we've had "caught on tape" television shows for years, and the news has not become a compendium of short, shocking videos. In the age of the Internet, news producers need to give people a reason to turn on their TVs instead of sitting in front of their computers. And offering the same thing you can find online – minus the freedom for the user to pick and choose what he wants to see – doesn't strike me as the best strategy for hanging onto viewers.