The Ugly World of Tabloid Story Brokering…

In a must read, The Atlantic’s Sheelah Kolhatkar profiles Larry Garrison and the world of getting tabloid stories on TV news…

Minute-by-minute competition among network newscasts and among news-magazine shows such as 60 Minutes and A Current Affair led to a sort of programming arms race, and an inexorable slide into the softer, more salacious—and more popular—“infotainment” that now fills prime-time hours. The murder trial of O. J. Simpson in 1995, the death of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in 1996, and the story of a mother and two teenage girls murdered in Yosemite National Park in 1999 were all beamed into millions of American homes, and each set cable ratings on fire. By the end of the 1990s, sensational tabloid fodder had grown from obscure filler into a dominant, driving force in television news—and the networks found that there simply weren’t enough young, pretty, white crime victims to go around. Bidding for stories, once anathema, became commonplace.

All of the networks now dabble with payment in one form or another, according to Garrison and others who work in the industry, although some shows and networks have a reputation for being more aggressive than others. One former network-news booker told me how disheartening it became to work in such an environment. “There was an utter desperation to get first crack at a top-flight story, and this was the only way to do it,” he said. “Every time a big story broke, it would become a circus … Someone always came out of the woodwork with a deal.”

Not infrequently, Garrison has been that someone, though many TV news producers won’t acknowledge that they do business with him. I couldn’t find any who would comment on the record.

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One Response to “The Ugly World of Tabloid Story Brokering…”

  1. — there simply weren’t enough young, pretty, white crime victims to go around. —

    Any bets that the next ‘serial killer’-suspect will be a news booker?

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