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Celebrity Deaths and the News

It’s now five days and counting since the news of Michael Jackson’s death and the coverage on the airwaves continues non-stop. Despite pleas from some viewers that the coverage is overdone, the networks—and in particular, the cable news outlets—continue to saturate with their “all Michael Jackson, all the time” coverage.

It’s easy to understand the cries of “enough already” from frustrated media consumers, but most of us have been around long enough to know that this attitude denies the reality of today’s media coverage. I think back to the last celebrity death that rivaled that of Michael Jackson’s—the death of Elvis Presley in 1977. Back then, there was no CNN, Fox News or MSNBC. Our televised news came from three networks, and although they did their fair share of coverage of the event, they knew that there were plenty of other things going on in the summer of 1977 that warranted our attention and planned their coverage accordingly.

Michael Jackson’s death came at the end of a particularly fast moving news week. One minute we’re hearing about continued revolution in Iran, followed by a deathly metro crash in Washington D.C., followed by the salacious tale of a southern governor who went AWOL and ended up admitting to an affair. Summer months usually mean slow news periods but this was not a typical week.

In other words, the news networks were not scrambling to fill the empty void; nevertheless the Jackson news overwhelmed everything else on the planet and rightly so—very few living individuals can command his kind of worldwide fame. And the story has legs; MJ was a walking soap opera while he was alive and it’s become even more immense in his afterlife. This story won’t die quickly, even after the funeral and assorted memorials and tributes.