Wednesday, March 25, 2015

'EXCLUSIVE!' Is eNCA's Karyn Maughan becoming South Africa's Connie Chung? Why eNCA is on a slippery slide to tawdry tabloid coverage.

"Just whisper it to me, just between you and me?"

Remember when America's Connie Chung on CBS leaned forward and exploited Newt Gingrich's mother in 1995 to tell her what he called Hillary Clinton? ("A bitch" the mother said.)

Well, it looks like eNCA (DStv 403) reporter Karyn Maughan is now becoming South Africa's Connie Chung as eNCA is starting to slide precipitously closer and closer to tabloid television and tawdry tabloid TV territory with salacious "personality" stories in the mold of Entertainment Tonight.

It is news, yes, but should eNCA do it?

The tabloid trash television markers are all over the eNCA story of Karyn Maughan interviewing the mom of slain rapper Flabba who, worthy of an Inside Edition segment, tells of the "threatening" Whatsapp messages girlfriend Manqele allegedly sent him before she killed him.

"She's gonna kill me," mourning mamma reveals to Karyn Maughan, billed as an "exclusive" - complete with exclamation mark - in a sensational profile story, the hallmark of tabloid entertainment news shows perfected in America like Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and Extra.

Tabloid fodder - the more tawdry, trashy and tragic the better - is one of the ways TV news uses to try and juice the ratings, and now it seems eNCA is on the same slippery slide.

Yes, Karyn Maughan did extensive coverage of the Oscar Pistorius court case last year and she excelled at it.

In a story and ongoing TV narrative of that scope, length and with larger-than-life characters, you cannot help but focus on the various media characters, the minutiae of their personal lives and every morsel of scandal-riddled lives.

The danger would be, and is for TV news channels like eNCA, it's addictive nature. Channels like eNCA should try and stay away from that trough as far as possible. But it's difficult.

Once a shark has smelled the blood, something more akin to instinct takes over.

Last year Andrew Tyndall, who tracks American TV news, told The Hollywood Reporter how ABC's ABC World News Tonight has started to veer away from "real news" and try to lure and keep viewers in sneaky ways to stay tuned in.

Trashy tabloid coverage is TV news' version of sugar and of partially hydrogenated oil - oh so good tasting but not really good for you.

The problem is creates is one of credibility. What real news value does a story - exclusive! mind you - based on trashy Whatsapp messages, relayed by a grieving mother put on camera - have? And what does it to for eNCA's image and brand and news name over time?

Most journalists, especially broadcast journalists, secretly live for these kinds of lurid Connie Chung stories.

They're "easier" to do in a sense because you hook viewers by hooking a talking head who is essentially somewhat exploited (since they're not media savvy) into talking and saying things that will make a salacious, lovely sound byte for a day.

It's the "Barbara Walters interviewing Donald Sterling's girlfriend V Stiviano" type TV trash: people who don't fully comprehend what they're doing, nor the power of the media, but who willingly talk for a empty calorie tabloid story.

Full disclosure: I've done those stories too as a journalist. I've jumped on unsuspecting people who didn't realise what they were saying. I've called a mom about her son who've assaulted someone and she told me exactly what he told her. A front page, main headline banner story.

As a news editor I've sometimes told other journalists to pursue these stories, as well. Dad forgot his baby in the car who died? You want that interview! Someone close to someone famous has some words or message or keepsake or document and is willing to reveal it? You want to get it! First!

But it's trashy and stupid. And eNCA should know, and do, better.