As autumn approaches (it begins next Tuesday in North America and much of Europe), a moment of silence, please, for one of the most poignant media moments of the summer: the birth of the "hate beat."
In late August, as you may have read, Charles Davis, an assistant professor at the storied Missouri School of Journalism -- the world's first J-school, founded just over a century ago -- published an editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune suggesting that "major news organizations need to cover hate the way they once did -- as a stand-alone beat." The professor invoked historic press coverage of the civil-rights movement as as inspiration for how journalists today should be covering the sorts of folks who show up armed to the teeth at President Barack Obama's speeches, carrying signs that read "It Is Time To Water the Tree of Liberty" and "Death to Obama, Death to Michelle and Her Two Stupid Kids." Predictably, Davis's proposal attracted comments on the online version of his article including "Mr. Davis -- You make Hitler look like a nice guy!" and (drum roll, please) "I hate you, Charles Davis."
The moment of silence is because Davis' proposal was, essentially, stillborn -- in part because of the larger context of journalism's death throes, as major media organizations continue to see their revenues crater, and as newspapers continue to downsize or close entirely across the country. Given the current economic realities in the media business, no major news organization would establish a new beat anyway, right? Especially one as inflammatory, as bait-y to the armed-to-the-teeth crowd, as a hate beat?
Well, not exactly. The truly poignant thing about Davis' earnest proposal is that everything is a hate beat these days, because everybody is consumed with hating on everybody else. Creating hate beats would be the ultimate redundancy.
So while reportorial shoe leather isn't necessarily being explicitly redeployed -- like when the New York Times rather hilariously created a "conservative beat" back in 2004 -- aspiring journalists (like those in Davis' classes) would nonetheless be wise to follow the hate.
J-school students and reporters nervous about the future should consider these journalistic growth areas:
The reality-hate beat
Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag. Assorted "Real Housewives." Bret Michaels. Jon & Kate (Plus Hate). Entertainment coverage used to be principally inspirational and aspirational -- ah, the glamour and grace of Old Hollywood! -- but now, with interchangeable reality stars dominating celebrity media (as former big-screen heavyweights falter at the box office), Americans need a lot of help keeping them straight. And the only way to do that is to tally and re-tally their most despicable qualities, their vilest actions, so news consumers can properly parse the reality-star spectrum based on varying levels of hateability.
The reality-hate-on-hate beat
Which hateable reality stars hate each other? Sheesh, reporting on that is a whole journalistic cottage industry in and of itself. For starters, Jon hates Kate. "I can't sit on the sofa with that woman," said Jon last week. "I can't sit on someone [sic] right now that I despise." Who'd he tell that to, an Us Weekly or Star reporter? Nope, he told "Good Morning America" co-host Chris Cuomo, in a segment introduced by none other than evening-news-anchor-in-waiting Diane Sawyer. (May God rest your soul, Walter Cronkite.)
The celebrity-hate beat
When you've had your fill of reporting on hateable faux celebrities, why not revert to reporting on real celebrities, who are often even more hateable because they're usually tons richer, in a seriously passé conspicuous-consumption sort of way, than reality-TV hacks? From upstarts like Chris Brown (Rihanna-basher) and Lindsay Lohan (professional trainwreck) to oldsters like Tom Cruise (he'll never live down that maniacally cackling Scientology video) to Madonna (dating a male model named Jesus; get it? Madonna + Jesus???), news consumers are hungry for serious reporting on seriously repugnant stars.
The sports-hate beat
Former fields of dreams have become squishy bogs of resentment. Maybe you saw Forbes' recent poll listing the most disliked people in sports? Here's your Top 10, America: Michael Vick, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Terrell Owens, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, Nick Saban, and (for nostalgia's sake, I guess) John McEnroe. Reporters interested in helping sports-news consumers keep their hateful bearings would be wise to constantly re-report these athletes' paychecks -- which are usually even more obscene than those collected in Hollywood -- and the fact that some of them have slept with (another drum roll, please?) Madonna.
The business-hate beat
Remember when the business beat was basically the religion beat? Up until roughly a year ago, CEOs were gods, mystical creators of wealth, due every inch of the hagiography business reporters lavished on them. Now, even even-tempered Atlantic magazine calls Dick Fuld, former chief of Lehman Brothers, "Wall Street's most hated ex-CEO" (and don't get them started on the rest of the most-hated list). It's worth noting that Fuld, for one, has lately been on a redemption tour, playing the victim: "I've been pummeled. I've been dumped on," he told Reuters. Reuters, of course, listened to the whiny little baby and duly reported on his self-pity because American news consumers are hungry for fresh reasons to hate on a-holes like Dick Fuld. Thank you, Reuters!
The hate network
AKA Fox News. Or MSNBC. (Your pick!)
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco