Posted by: mbtrotter | October 26, 2010

They call them “bogus trend stories.”

Saturday Night Live has a track record of sending up broadcast news with its long-running “Weekend Update” sketch. But every once in awhile it takes the skewering a step further, like the “Headline News” skit from the Oct. 23 show.

Even though it’s parody, there are several elements there you’d expect in an actual, overdone broadcast story: ominous lead-ins, emphasis on certain words, the shot of students from the neck down, dramatic black-and-white shots, interviews with a frantic mother and a seemingly confused teenager.

Broadcast outlets have plenty of horrifying, great-for-TV, rumored trends to chase down — spunkball, shooting up shampoo, getting high on Coca-Cola and aspirin, consuming vodka through the eyeballs or vagina, rainbow parties, and jelly bracelets, to name a few. Shouldn’t they be doing some fact-checking first?

Absolutely, says Jack Shafer of Slate (Magazine? E-zine?), who could probably keep his career going writing only about other media outlets’ coverage of bogus trend stories.

Besides Fox News’ vodka eyeballing piece — the broadcast version of which may have benefited from some of SNL‘s production tricks — there have been plenty of other instances of news outlets getting caught up in the hype of a trend.

In 2008, Shafer pointed out the inaccuracies of a CBS News piece about teen bombers.

2009 was all about sexting. CBS News (really!?!) made it 15 days into the year before calling sexting “shockingly commong among teens.” It came up over and over throughout the year, despite — shameless blog plugs in 3, 2, 1 — rational claims it wasn’t an epidemic because 75 percent of teens weren’t.

It’s very important for news outlets to get trend stories right, for several reasons. Sexting, for example, is still with us. (I’m still angry about the word itself; images, which got the “trend” going, don’t arrive via text.)

Brett Favre is in trouble and a Wisconsin district attorney resigned over allegations of sexting. Georgia teens are being taught and Minneapolis Star Tribune staff are writing about sexting as if it’s brand new. Two weeks ago, Apple won a patent for anti-sexting technology.

All that because of a “trend” reported nearly two years ago.

The news media have a lot of responsibility in reporting potential trends, because those stories can have far-reaching, long-lasting effects. I don’t know about you, but I’m not really up for showing my ID to buy soup because all the cans have been locked up like spray paint.

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of NBC Universal and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.


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