While reading an old Entertainment Weekly magazine earlier today I discovered something I didn’t know about that Janet Jackson Superbowl nipple slip debacle.

As you will recall, a couple of years ago MTV was put in charge of the Superbowl halftime show, and they presented some crazy spectacle involving Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. In what would later be referred to as a “wardrobe malfunction”, Timberlake removed part of Jackson’s costume revealing parts that aren’t fit for prime time public television.

Whether the incident was planned or accidental isn’t material to this topic, although I will say that I’m in the camp of those who are all for nudity on the public airwaves provided that there is some way to determine what shows to avoid watching if your preference is not to be shocked by seeing a half second of exposed female breast. Regardless, CBS, the network that aired the game and halftime show, was fined something like $500,000 by the government for the public’s exposure to indecency.

What’s interesting – or disturbing, depending on how you look at it – is that until I read this small blurb in the legal news column tucked away in the front of the Entertainment Weekly, I did not know that a federal court in Philadelphia had revoked this fine, saying that the network couldn’t be held responsible for this accidental incident on live TV.

Why didn’t you tell me?

I grant you, I probably don’t pay attention to as much news as I should. It’s harder to avoid some of it these days, with the election and economy in utter turmoil. Nonetheless, I feel like I should have known about this fine repeal.
Considering the major news story it was at the time, you’d think that the follow up might have at least made it onto the regular news radar even for someone like me, who doesn’t follow news religiously. This is especially so, considering that the fines are pretty large - $500,000 per incident.

It’s obvious that the follow-up on the event is not as glamorous as a boob shown on network TV, and perhaps that’s why it doesn’t make the front page. Still, I think that there was adequate (if ridiculous) public outrage about the incident that the resultant repeal should have been more publicized. But I think this behavior of the news, in particular with TV news, is becoming more problematic.

Murder is an interesting crime, but solving them is drama, not news

I’ll not kid you that Philadelphia, the major metropolitan area in which I live, is a veritable kill zone. There are a lot of murders up in my ‘hood. Still, the volume of murder shouldn’t subdue the news agencies’ willingness to adequately report it.

It’s usually sad when murder happens. Sure, you don’t often get upset about some drug-dealing banger getting offed in the middle of a deal, but there are frequent instances of standers-by getting hit in the crossfire, and those are often sad times. But all too often, any sadness I feel about the incident itself is followed immediately by rage, and not for the murderer, but for the news.

Who did the killing? These are basic journalistic questions that often times go unanswered. And even if you don’t know the answers, you should at least explain why or what people are doing to come up with the answers. Are the police investigating? What are they doing? Who do they suspect? What was the motivation for the killing? It’s basic reporting, and infuriating when they’re reducing a murder down to a 10-second sound bite when they don’t do it properly. However, that’s just a brief, sharp pain for the coming dull ache to follow.

In two months after the crime, do we ever hear what happened? No! We might get a day or two of follow-up, depending on how high-profile the victim is or how much public outrage there is, but there is often no reported resolution to these crimes.

I’d hate to believe that there simply is no resolution. Maybe I’m exceedingly naïve in thinking that many of these crimes are actually vindicated by the police and justice system. I think that with the frequency of reported successful prosecution of crimes, somebody’s not doing his job. I’ve got to believe that it’s the newscasters.
Parents on strike

While murders in a city that is 45 miles away (hey, I live in the suburbs) most often don’t affect me personally, there are occasions where the news of the day has a personal effect. In one particular instance where I’m waiting for a resolution, there’s the Downingtown Area School District teachers’ strike.

So how much is this costing me?

In the middle of the last school year, Downingtown teachers had decided that they had had enough negotiating with the district over pay and benefits, having extended the deadline for reaching an agreement several times. It the end, they organized a strike.

I was firmly on the side of the district. Our teachers were being paid as well as any other teachers in the area, and individual salaries were determined by their own union anyway. The pay, while I admit is generally awful for people to whom we entrust the futures of our children, was good to start with, and the raise offered was quite adequate, indeed more than any raise I’ve gotten at one time. But more importantly, the school board’s job is to represent the interests of the district’s tax payers in regard to the budget in addition to the quality of school service. In that matter, while we all would love to give the teachers more, the money didn’t exist to do it.

So the teachers were on strike for a couple of weeks. The crunch was tight on other families who would need daycare. More of the support workers in the district were temporarily out of jobs while the teachers walked out to the tune of safe, protected retroactive pay. But I don’t know why the teachers eventually went back to work. Why? The news didn’t report it.

As a matter of fact, I can’t find the details of the final agreement even on the school board’s website. But for something this life-affecting – this will affect my kids’ futures, my taxes, my property value, and my need for daycare – you’d think that some reporter would have dug up something and published it.

It is utterly dismaying that there has been no follow-up on this issue. I would love to know who finally relented and how much. I suppose I’ll notice in my next school tax bill, but I’d love to have the opportunity via board elections to send the message to school board members that they work for me, if the cause is there. And conversely, I’d love to give them praise if they stuck to their guns. I have most doubt that they have, really.

Technological enhancement for news

It seems to me that news needs a way for people to track stories for resolution. Instead of just having a stream of news that is updated with whatever the agencies want to provide, a tracking of subscribers to previously published stories could result in more clean and thorough news coverage; Although, this could also have an opposite effect.

I’d worry that by tracking only what people are interested in – even more so than they already do – that news agencies wouldn’t cover stories that might be of additional interest, but outside of the existing public knowledge.

One way or another, I think the news needs to follow through with their reporting by also providing the follow-up information that they too often leave out.