Nontraditional outlets fuel Smith coverage

Devoting endless hours and inches to sensational stories is not something new for traditional media. Neither is being influenced by the increasingly news-breaking blogosphere.

Devoting endless hours and inches to sensational stories is not something new for traditional media. Neither is being influenced by the increasingly news-breaking blogosphere.

But the extent to which those two factors have converged in the media's coverage of - and obsession with - Anna Nicole Smith's sudden death is the latest indication of how traditional media will exist and evolve in the 24/7 online world.

Within hours of Smith's death, cable news networks were buzzing with speculation about the cause, along with reflections on the former Playboy bunny's life. And to be fair, it has been a life that seems to have been made for the tabloids: a marriage to a billionaire octogenarian, the battle for his money, the death of her son days after the birth of her daughter, and the ensuing circus of a paternity fight over that infant.

Certainly, as the obsession with knowing every little detail about celebrities' lives has skyrocketed, the speed and depth with which blogs can report such stories have made them the go-to - for consumers and other media.

"Blogs have been driving mainstream coverage for a while," says Mario Lavandeira (aka blogger Perez Hilton). "I know that all of the magazines and TV shows read my Web site, and consciously or unconsciously, they're influenced by it."

Influenced, yes. But with the Smith story, it seems as if traditional media was almost pressured by not only the public's hunger for every salacious detail of her life, but also the immediate and intrusive type of "reporting" that only the blogosphere can usually provide.

A few years ago, this is a story that would have been left to the entertainment programs like Access Hollywood and Extra.

But in an age where more Americans can identify Smith than the Secretary of Defense, the story took on a life (no pun intended) of its own.

The fact that Larry King devoted his entire program to the topic the night Smith's death was reported was almost expected. After all, she had been a guest on his show countless times. What was more surprising is that news of her death overshadowed seemingly more pressing issues on the evening news programs usually reserved for more serious journalism.

An analysis conducted by Think Progress, the Center for American Progress Action Fund's blog, showed that on February 8, NBC Nightly News devoted 14 seconds to Iraq, compared with 3 minutes and 13 seconds to Smith, and references to Smith on CNN were 522% more frequent than those concerning Iraq. MSNBC was the worst offender, with 708% more references to Smith than Iraq.

Ironically, it was MSNBC's Joe Scarborough who devoted a seemingly endless amount of time to Smith's death, bringing in countless media "experts" to explain its own fascination with the topic, all the while asking the question, "Why do the media care so much when there is more important news to report?"

It was certainly a question on everyone's mind again the next morning when the morning shows led with Smith's death as a news story. This, of course, came a day after the sixth downing of a US helicopter in Iraq in three weeks and the deaths of US servicemen.

One can only guess that disgraced NASA astronaut Lisa Marie Nowak must have been a bit relieved that the frenzy gave her a bit of reprieve from the media spotlight and coverage, even if Smith's death came too late to take Nowak off the cover of People.

CNN's Jack Cafferty perhaps had the best take on the situation. In turning back coverage to Wolf Blitzer on February 8, Cafferty asked, "Is Anna Nicole still dead, Wolf?"

Indeed she is, but thanks to the blogosphere and traditional media's desire to keep up, the story is far from over.

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