The media and pushing the envelope

I have to admit I winced when I heard that a British nurse who had been the target of a prank phone call by some DJs on an Australian radio show had died, apparently after taking her own life.

The radio yakkers had called the hospital and pretended to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles seeking info on the pregnant Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, who had been hospitalized for a serious form of morning sickness.

Incredibly, the nurse put the call through and another nurse offered some information to the would-be royals.

A few days later the body of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who took the initial prank call, was found. British police are now investigating the circumstances of her death and if she took her own life out of shame tied to the incident.

The radio hosts are now remorseful, and their show has been pulled from the air.

Obviously they never intended any harm to anyone. What they were looking for is the same thing that drives so much of today’s popular media. They wanted eyes and ears. In other words, ratings.

This is not the pot calling the kettle black. I am fully aware that the same accusation can and often is pointed at me and this newspaper. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had that include the following sentence: “You only put that story on your front page to sensationalize the story and sell newspapers.”

I won’t try to argue that there is some merit to that.

But there’s also a big difference.

We are always reporting news; we don’t create it.

That wasn’t the case with the prank call.

The incident tells you a lot about today’s media and what some people are willing to do to get ratings. Let’s face it, these celebrity tidbits get a lot more attention than the zoning hearing board of your local municipality.

In some ways, the media is only feeding the public what it demands.

Every day I and a lot of other people in the media wonder where the line is that separates the acceptable from the tawdry.

Maybe they should ask those two radio DJs. They just stepped across it.