If ever there was a media performance that could make you despair for the future of news coverage in Charlotte, it was the nauseating aftermath of last week's plane crash. When US Airways Express Flight 5481 crashed on Wednesday, killing all 21 people on board, the resulting local media feeding frenzy was on. TV news reporters, jumping at the chance to deliver stories outside their familiar car-wreck-and-murder turf, went on what we can only describe as a rampage, frantically saturating the airwaves with breathless account after breathless account of any detail or tidbit of information they could get their hands on, no matter how repetitive or inane. They showed footage, they put on their "this is serious"face, they tried to sound sad and faked it as well as possible given their morbid excitement. They flew around in their choppers over the wreckage, they covered uninformative press conferences and analyzed them to death, they eulogized the victims, they flew in the chopper some more, and on and on and on till they managed to turn a heartbreaking disaster into a three-ring circus of banality. WBT radio was almost as bad. WFAE radio, as usual, was professional and informative, albeit late. Of course, the TV coverage, as exploitive and sickening as it was, didn't exactly qualify as a big surprise. The real shock came the next day when it was made obvious how much the Observer
now takes its cue from TV's approach. Page after page of excruciating particulars -- all well-reported and well-documented, and about 80 percent of it superfluous -- allowed the necrophile contingent of the daily's readership to wallow in every soap opera detail. All told, the Observer
devoted nearly nine pages of a 16-page front section to sifting through the wreckage. By comparison, when the city suffered its worst aviation disaster -- a crash at the airport which killed 72 people on September 11, 1974 -- they somehow managed to give full coverage to the disaster in a mere four pages of a 20-page front section. Naturally, that was long before Jerry Springer became a guiding light and inspiration to newsrooms everywhere.
Fans of more conventional Observer fare weren't disappointed the day after the crash, either. Unwilling to relinquish their role as city boosters and civic cheerleaders, even in the face of a fatal plane crash and TV choppers flying overhead, Observer editors let it be known about halfway through their lead story that ". . .the commuter crash thrust Charlotte into the national spotlight Wednesday." It's unclear whether tourism officials will take advantage of the extra national publicity to plug our fair "burg's, er, charm.