Tuesday, July 23, 2013

ROYAL BABY COVERAGE: HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH? HOW LITTLE IS NOT ENOUGH?

It's a pretty safe bet that newspaper, television and radio newsrooms across the nation -- and probably around the world -- are already getting calls today from readers, viewers and listeners carping about the amount of coverage being given to the birth of Great Britain's new royal baby.

Let's face it, there really are millions and millions of people around the world who truly and honestly don't care about the event, or have only a passing interest in the basic fact that it has, at last, happened.

However, there are just as many, if not more, millions who are breathlessly fascinated by it all and are anxiously awaiting the next tidbit of news regarding William and Kate's new male offspring and heir to the throne. Although you might refer to these people as "heirheads," that does not, necessarily make them airheads.

All of this raises the age old question for editors and news directors: "How much is way too much and how little is not nearly enough?"

I'm sure that if there had been newspapers in ancient Greece, editors would have been wrestling with questions regarding at what point readers would have had just about enough coverage of Agamemnon, Odysseus and that whole Trojan Horse thing.

Like it or not, the birth of a new potential heir to the British throne, is a big news story. However, every big news story has a life cycle. The real trick for newspaper editors and electronic media news directors is being able to sense when that life cycle is drawing to a close and further intense coverage runs the risk of turning off the vast majority of readers, viewers or listeners and transforming every Joe and Jane Sixpack into a media critic. Call it, if you will, reaching saturation point; and deciding when it has been reached requires the exercise of news judgment. The problem is that no two news executives have exactly the same news judgment and, frankly, I sometimes wonder if some have any news judgment at all.

However, I believe that when it comes to stories like the royal birth, newspaper editors in general (and this does not include the editors of grocery store tabloids) and local electronic-media news directors have a better sense than network news executives -- particularly those at "all news" networks like CNN, Fox and CNBC -- of when enough is enough and how much is too much for their readers or audience.

For instance, while this morning's TV talk shows were essentially wall-to-wall royal baby talk, my local paper -- The Monitor, in McAllen, Texas, of which I was the editor for nearly 12 years before my retirement at the end of April -- carried a single story about the birth stripped across the top of the front page. That Associated Press story, headlined "Fans go gaga over royal baby," coupled with a jump-page timeline sidebar headlined "Key moments for William and Kate," pretty much gave average readers all they might have wanted to know about the new, as yet unnamed, British prince. Of course, that may not have been enough for the avid heirheads in Monitor's Texas-Mexico-border circulation area, but, if it wasn't, they can easily tune in to any of the TV networks or go one of the social media websites for more incessant royal baby chatter.

If you are by this point thinking that I put little stock in the news value of the royal birth, you're wrong. Although I did make some jokes about it yesterday on Facebook and Twitter, I appreciate it as big news both as a newsman and a history buff. However, my personal interest in it will peak once they announce the name chosen for the kid. I could be wrong, but I think most non-heirheads feel about the same. The question is, how much more beyond that will the public be subjected to by the networks?

                                                                  -30-

As always, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome and will be most appreciated.