Friday, May 25, 2007

Stop me if you've heard this one before

Or seen this one before; or more poignantly, if you’ve read this one before. Yes, gas prices are going up, as we all know. They’re approaching record highs, as we all know. And nobody gives to shakes of a pre-paid pump that they are, as we all know.

Yet for some reason, the Capital Region’s media –and the nation’s media as a whole –seems obsessed with reporting the ebbs and flows of gas prices. It’s the same story as last month, last year, or any other time this millennium, as modern society plows through the tail end of the world’s fossil fuel supply.

These boilerplate stories have grown so uninventive that it’s a wonder why the editors and producers from around the region don’t keep templates in the newsroom to simply plug in a few numbers and quotes. First, there’s the shocker lead: regional gas prices are nearing record highs this month as the holiday weekend approaches. Then follow it up with the “nobody cares” graph: area travel agencies don’t expect the price at the pumps to affect the summer travel season one bit. Lastly, cap it off with a bull-shit quote from the pissed-off service station customer filling up the 45-gallon tank to their Hummer: “If this keeps up, I’ll have to buy a Prius.”

And definitely some stock photos. Maybe dedicate one hour of photography to film the quintessential “guy pumping gas” photo that always seems to accompany these mundane stories. Or better yet, shoot four-dozen or so pictures of the pimple-faced adolescent changing the prices on the Mobile Mart gas sign out front.

Today’s Gas Guzzler Award for the most print wasted on a ludicrous gas story goes to The Daily Gazette. This isn’t to say the story is written poorly –it’s about as enjoyable a read as they come when considering gas stories –rather the editors at the newspaper thought the issue important enough to featured it as the top headline above the fold. But the Gazette eds aren’t alone with their lunacy. They even got “scooped” on the gas price story by the Times Union, which in its haste to run a gas story, decided to run an above-the-fold wire story in Thursday’s paper, then follow it up with what essentially matched the Gazette’s article Friday.

The problem is nobody cares about gasoline prices, so why in the great wide world of sports would they care about a story discussing gasoline prices? Sure, it’s a bitch to be shelling out a few Benjamins at the pumps each week to drive a sport utility vehicle the size of your standard box truck. But a few extra dollars here ain’t going to stop anyone from doing it, meaning the gas story is nothing more than filler for media sources that either have bone-brained editors or an utter lack of news to report or both. Gas stories are a lot like the prototypical weather story, only weather at least is a bit interesting and sometimes kills people.

Maybe if these hackneyed news agencies can knock out a good stock of these stories ahead of time, then perhaps they can help stead the rising cost of fuel. If all they have to do for a gas story is simply roll out the template, footage, photos and all, then maybe they can save a few valuable gallons of gas sending reporters into the field to gather all this tripe.

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