Amid all the turmoil in the world today, The Sacramento Bee decided this story deserved front page attention today: “Did mailman deliver turkey’s fatal blow?” The first paragraph of the story set the tone:
“Residents on a quiet Fair Oaks cul-de-sac say they were shocked and worried for their safety after a burly mail carrier clubbed and stabbed a wild turkey to death in an unprovoked attack and threatened a resident who told him to stop.”
My blood pressure almost went up when I read that.
The Bee considers itself a serious newspaper and its senior editors apparently lack a humor gene, so you really have to wonder why they thought this story deserved page one treatment. But the decision to run the story on page one makes perfect sense when you look at American media today.
The rise of the Internet has brought with it an increased interest in the frivolous and bizarre; how else do you explain the ability of the Kardashians to create a multi-million dollar business enterprise? Newspapers, which find their readers abandoning them for the headlines of online news sites instead of the substance of print journalism, are just trying to keep pace.
One thing they’ve learned is that animal abuse stories are sure winners, more likely to draw the interest and outrage of readers than the latest gang-banger going down in a fusillade of bullets. A guy in Sacramento was recently sentenced to five years in prison for killing a puppy, more prison time than the usual two-bit felony will draw.
Internet news sites were still in their infancy when I worked as assistant city editor at The Union, but it was obvious to me that readers had a strong interest in animal stories, particularly abused animals. I remember one story where a guy was arrested for practically starving to death two horses. Furious residents filled the courtroom whenever he made an appearance, and many of them were ready to lynch him.
I worked for three different editors at The Union, and I told each of them how they could maximize readership: Increase coverage of crime news and sports, and run a picture every day of an animal looking adorable or forlorn, or a small child doing something cute. If you could get the animal and child in one picture, stick it in the center of page one.
The fact that all three of those editors ignored me illustrates how slow they are to change.