The Digital Journalist
Amy Bowers TV Talk

"The Regional Adjustment"

I have lots of great stories I'd like to produce this year. But my best ideas fall flat at the network and I don't know why. I mean, why didn't they jump on my story called "Topsoil in America"? Okay, I'm kidding about topsoil. If the entire nation were left foodless because of a dearth of topsoil in the heartland, "Topsoil in America" would still be boring.

But why is it tough to pitch stories from my home on the High Lonesome? I think it may have to do with a secret proportion I call "The Regional Adjustment."

Intuition tells me that The Regional Adjustment is an insiders' executive ratio that reflects their interest level in "Lives on the Planet" to "Lives on the Beltway." The New Mexico coefficient is something like 400:1. Maybe it's 4,000:1, but I hate to enter the New Year as such a skeptic, so I'll stay with 400 till I'm proved wrong. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that news concerning four hundred homes, people, or places in my state get reported with the same urgency as one home, person, or place near the national desks of The New York Times, The Washington Post, or ABC News.

Remember that crazy guy who mugged Dan Rather, while intoning, "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" Maybe he wanted to know how frequently he would have to mug people in his home state in order to get himself on national news.

How about mystery illness? In the 1990s we had an outbreak of a disease that mysteriously killed two young people in the Four Corners area. The outbreak grew and more people died while local news in New Mexico aggressively covered the story. It was many weeks and deaths before the disease had killed enough people to become newsworthy in New York and Washington. Did the "Regional Adjustment" keep the Hantavirus outbreak beneath the network radar screen for the first months? Unlike Legionnaires disease of the '70s, that killed American war veterans in a large Eastern city, Hantavirus killed rural Native Americans in a state so obscure it was once left off the Auto Club map of the United States.

You can apply the Regional Adjustment to animal stories too. Suppose the elk out West were infected with a mysterious transmissible brain wasting "Mad Elk" disease. Would national editors be interested? Wrong region, wrong species! To become national news, it would have to infect Beltway pets. "Mad Poodle" or "Mad Shitzsu" disease might stand a chance.

I predict that eventually there will be massive UFO sightings out here in the Southwest. But if a UFO lands in New Mexico, the aliens will have to abduct hundreds of people before they receive attention from the national press. By comparison, I bet it would only take one alien chanting "Klatu Barata Niktoo," in Washington, D.C., to become the lead story on all the networks. On the other hand, if the UFO lands in Santa Fe, it could become a "Destination Driven Story," which means a story that reporters want to cover because of its desirable travel location. The ultimate would be a squadron of UFOs that lands in Santa Fe, abducts Alan Greenspan and travels in a low altitude, low speed convoy to Washington D.C. Now that would be the Mother Ship of All Stories, even after the Regional Adjustment.

Amy Bowers

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