Marijuana, lauded, rued and feared as an appetite stimulant, is causing the news media to get a major case of the munchies. A pot-crazed mass media is chowing down on the devil weed as if it were a bottomless bowl of Toll House chocolate chip cookies.
A media feeding frenzy occurs when a story becomes so big that every media outlet looks for a new and different angle for covering it. News junkies begin to feel as if they are drowning in stories about the topic, as everywhere they turn another media outlet is blasting or reblasting a story. It can leave one dizzy, disoriented, maybe feeling a little stoned.
Some media feeding frenzies last a few days or weeks, like the recent outbreak of Cyrus-twerking. Others last the length of a trial or a campaign. Others like Watergate—and perhaps now Bridgegate—go on far longer than anyone suspected they would when they first emerged. In my lifetime, the longest feeding frenzy was the coverage of the emergence of AIDS: the mass media literally produced at least one new story about some aspect of AIDS every day during the 1990’s.
A year and even six months ago, gay marriage dominated feature news coverage. Now it’s marijuana.
If you don’t believe me, go to Google News and key in one word: marijuana. More than 41.3 million stories will pop up. The following sample of story topics come from the first few pages of the search, and all have appeared within the past 72 hours. Many stories on this list appeared multiple times, as the news media consists largely of reprints and repackagings of other stories, with very little original content reported:
- Dozens of stories about bills introduced in state legislatures to legalize marijuana, including a popular one predicting the next five states to legalize marijuana.
- Many stories about the continued reaction to Obama’s statements about marijuana legalization.
- Continued marijuana busts, including one in the state of Washington.
- Proposed Illinois medical marijuana rules ban those with prescriptions from owning guns.
- What’s safer: smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol?
- DEA agent quits to go to work for a private equity fund that invests in marijuana businesses.
- Marijuana poisoning of pets is on the rise.
- Marijuana ads banned on Facebook, Google and Twitter.
- Bill Gates voted for legalization.
- The not very interesting fact that both teams in the Superbowl reside in states where recreational use is now or soon to be legal.
- Investing in companies that make or sell marijuana.
- A proposed law to use proceeds from marijuana taxes to pay for more police.
What distinguishes a media feeding frenzy from normal news coverage is the great lengths that journalists will go to find or create a connection that involves the target of the frenzy. For example, we see just about every approach to feature news coverage in this list: Legislation, personality profiles, business aspects, dueling politicians, celebrity interest, law enforcement, health and the bizarre and quirky. All that’s missing are consumer features, such as comparisons of cooking recipes, quality of pot strains (brands) and where and what the hip people imbibe; what I call “sell” journalism: stories dedicated to helping someone sell a good or service. But these will come, just as we are now seeing stories on goods and service related to gay courtship and marriage.