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Gluttony is Good

-first posted at RTDNA.org on November 24, 2009

Here it is Thanksgiving week and I feel the need to write something connected to that holiday.  I began to tick off my possible topics and realized I’d already robbed Peter to pay Paul in some earlier blogs.  I recall writing about what I am thankful for in modern newsrooms way back in the summer (great timing there).  I also wrote about football regarding our ongoing scrimmages with athletic conferences and their shortsighted media policies.  So if thankfulness and football are out as Thanksgiving topics, what’s left?  It could only be gluttony.

We’re raised to think that gluttony is a sin.  It’s literally on a list, of course.  Around the end of the Sixth Century, Pope Gregory I took eight sins the Greeks saw as the most egregious, narrowed them to seven (changing a few in the process), and thus, the Seven Deadly Sins were born.  There’s no need to go through the whole list here (check in with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt for that), but suffice it to say gluttony—or the act of too lustful an appetite—made it high on the list.  Looking back 15 centuries, I’m guessing gluttony was an easy sell as a sin, seeing that most churchgoers didn’t have enough to eat anyway.  It was a bit of a early Middle Ages softball to throw the peasant class as they envied the rich (envy, another deadly sin).

By now you’re wondering what all this has to do with Thanksgiving and journalism.  Hop the metaphoric Mayflower with me and leave the old world behind.  Our new world habit of stuffing ourselves on Thanksgiving stems back to that first feast of the pilgrims, giddy over growing enough food in 1621 to survive a winter.  After the deadly scarcity of the previous year, think how overwhelmed the first settlers in Massachusetts were to have so much from which to choose.

The world of journalism (yes, I finally got to journalism) is having its own harvest of 1621 right now.  The relative scarcity of news content and delivery methods has given way to a cornucopia of stories and ways to find them.  Turn away from the problems with the business model right now and just look at the content.  There is so much more than we could have ever dreamed having at our fingertips.  And we can use our fingertips—literally—to touch so many methods of delivery.

The day of the news glutton is here.  And we should celebrate him and his gluttony.  Imagine what your stations would be like if you were still only producing news for a handful of static newscasts per day.  Sure, you might wish for those simpler days, the days before you ever heard of the term “24/7.”  But with the audience erosion we’ve all seen over the last 30 years or so, where would we be under that old model?  I fear we would be an afterthought in most people’s day.  Instead, our craft has embraced new technology and used it to deliver more news faster each and every year, ingraining ourselves in people’s personal habits.  I entered the TV news business at a time when ENG vans and SNG trucks were new technology.  We could bring those stories live, delivering more and better than we did before.  Today, the push is for “three screens” to keep news a button’s push away around the clock.  The demand for stories, then live stories, and now mobile stories is all a product of the growth in news gluttony.  Celebrate it.

Is there a downside to embracing a deadly sin as a driving force behind our profession?  Sure.  Unbridled voracity can lead to swallowing a few things that might upset your stomach.  And our modern news gluttons swallow more than a few spoiled meals in their haste to have it all.  The figurative bad taste such an encounter leaves is sure to put a consumer off consuming from you for a while.  But the solution to that problem is a simple one.  Serve only the finest items on your buffet.  Since the cost nearly everywhere to consume is nearly zero, why not become known for serving the best there is to offer on your three screens.  Skip the junk food and serve what’s good for your gluttons—a healthy serving of important stories.  That will keep them coming back.

Now, daring to take this analogy so far as to turn your stomach, let me make one final point.  The first Thanksgiving celebrated a bountiful harvest grown right there where the settlers had put down literal and figurative roots.  We can learn a lot from that local approach, keeping our gluttons grazing close to home.  As local foods gain in popularity as a way to combat carbon build-up and corporate farms, let’s not forget that news is a dish best served local.  Our future is not as a provider of content for gluttons across the globe.  Instead, most of us will harvest again and again with a local audience in mind.

So, as you settle in this week after stuffing yourself with a little too much of everything on that dining room table, think about when gluttony is good.  It has taken us a long way as a craft and promises to continue to carry us forward for many Thanksgivings to come.

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