Everybody, sitting down? Britney was taken to the hospital again in the wee hours. TMZ was running exclusives all night long. You can hardly blame them though–their business model relies on this kind of gossip–for running the story, and proudly, with a nice shot of Britney looking either deranged or seriously pre-coffee in the ambulance.
But in the strange media maelstrom that governs stories like this these days, both the L.A. Times and The New York Times websites ran the story as front-page news, justifying their interest by reporting the presence of other professional onlookers. “The winding street on which Spears lives in Studio City,” says the L.A. Times, “was jammed with the vehicles of journalists and photographers for several hours prior to the police operation.”
Like the recent dustup over the revelation that the AP has Brit’s, LiLo’s and other young stars’ obits pre-written, this is a story that confuses covering a story with a story. Major news outlets, which used to pride themselves on making news judgments, are increasingly driven by their websites’ traffic minders to carry the story that’s generating heat. Their attention, in turn, makes a story a legitimate one. We’ve always paid attention to stars’ private lives (kids, lookup a lady named Liz Taylor), but the web’s butterfly effect fans every leaked photo into a tsunami. But having an obit on file doesn’t mean a star’s death is imminent; having paparazzi and bloggers accompany a star to the hospital doesn’t mean we need to pay attention.