Tuesday, May 19, 2009

NCIS, CSI, and the News

Reading reader comments about online news stories is the intellectual equivalent of shoving your brain in a blender and setting it to liquefy.

As an exercise in self-loathing, I read reader comments. As torture goes this is far below waterboarding, but worse than rubbing salt in an open sore. It usually takes only a short while before comments veer into racism, sexism, or some other -ism.

But what's truly interesting is to read them with this in mind -- these people watch way too much TV. And what's worse, it affects their perceptions of reality.

Case in point, crime stories. Read some online site's crime reporting, then look at the comments. Many think solving crime should take no more than 60 minutes, including commercial breaks, using superduper forensic techniques that don't really exist, done by Einstein-like scientists who don't really exist, and then cleverly used in an interrogation or cross-examination in situations that never ever happen in real world policing or courtroom situations.

Budding mass comm scholars know this as cultivation theory, at least in part, but it really comes down to how watching TV skews our perception of the world. What people know about a lot of professions out there like cops and lawyers is based on what they see on TV. As a former cops/courts reporter, I know that the real world is nowhere as neat as what you see on NCIS or CSI:Cleveland or whatever the hell else people watch that must, by law, include some acronym. I've sat through too many real trials, worked too many crime scenes, to think for a minute TV has it even close to reality, but it's fun to read comments by these pseudo-experts as they criticize their local cops because they can't solve crimes like on TV. No, they don't actually say it that way, you have to read between the lines, but the masscomm effect is there. You just gotta know where to look for it.

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