Evaluating print and broadcast news in the San Francisco Bay Area from A to F.

Printer-friendly version?

Rehashing the Peterson tragedy for cash

Commentary by John McManus
Posted January 28, 2004
Fox News crew encamped in Modesto.

So much money is now involved in the murder trial of Scott Peterson, that Bay Area convention and visitors' bureaus were begging that it be relocated near their hotels and restaurants.

Everyone wants to cash in on tragedy.

That it has come to this makes me ashamed to be a journalist.

Were it not for us, this trial would be proceeding quietly in Modesto. And all the public cost of re-locating witnesses, investigators and attorneys would have been avoided.

I'll concede the Laci Peterson saga has great emotional resonance. Every woman whose husband has cheated or abused her may relish witnessing the state seeking revenge.

John McManus

But as a journalist, I'm ashamed because playing to that vicarious desire to get even is about making money, about riding a story that sells, not about giving voice to the voiceless.

I'm ashamed because news corporations that claim they can't afford to cover Sacramento or city hall or pay for investigative reporting or make the vast pathology of violence against women a news priority, will encamp in San Mateo with millions of dollars worth of satellite and microwave trucks.

I'm ashamed because the precious resource of the public's attention will be squandered on old news -- a rehash of evidence presented in the preliminary hearing just months ago.

I'm ashamed because the marketers who now run our news media will squeeze off the front page and first segments of newscasts what we need to know in a season of elections, financial crises and international wars.

I'm ashamed because even among the journalists covering the Peterson story, most don't believe in it.

As journalism becomes a business seeking more to gratify than inform its audience, it becomes unessential. Another side-show barker in a daily more crowded neighborhood of peep shows.

The Constitution didn't guarantee freedom of the press for this.

What do you think? Discuss it in The Coffeehouse.


A project of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Jose State University, Grade the News is affiliated with the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University and KTEH, public television in Silicon Valley.

Monitoring the Bay Area's most popular news media:

Contra Costa Times

Knight Ridder

San Francisco Chronicle


San Jose Mercury News

Knight Ridder

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KTVU, Oakland (FOX)

KRON, San Francisco

KRON, San Francisco

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KPIX, San Francisco (CBS)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KGO, San Francisco (ABC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)

KNTV, San Jose (NBC)


Bay Area media advocates:

Media Alliance
Center for the Integration and Improvement of Journalism at SFSU
Maynard Institute
Youth Media Council
Project Censored
New California Media
Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter
National Writers Union Bay Area chapter

Site highlights


The three-part series follows the rise of three Bay Area handouts:
• Part 1: At free dailies, advertisers sometimes call the shots
• Part 2: Free daily papers: more local but often superficial
• Part 3: Free papers' growth threatens traditional news
• See also: SF Examiner and Independent agree to end payola restaurant reviews
• And: The free tabloid that wasn't: East Bay's aborted Daily Flash


Lou Alexander started a firestorm with his original guest commentary predicting the company would be sold. Several other experts on newspapers have weighed in:
Newspapers can't cut their way back into Wall Street investors' hearts, by Stephen R. Lacy; Alexander responds
Humbler profits won't encourage buyouts, by John Morton; Alexander responds
Newspapers can't maintain monopoly profits because they've lost their monopolies, by Philip Meyer
Knight Ridder in grave jeopardy, by Lou Alexander...


Leakers and plumbers: There's no difference between a good leak and a bad leak? Journalists need a shield law. 11/22/05
Unintended consequences: How Craigslist and similar services are sucking revenue from faltering newspapers. 9/13/05
Is CPB irrelevant? As Congress moves to cut public broadcasting funds, has CPB become obsolete in the modern marketplace. 6/26/05
The paradox of news: There's more news available and its cheaper than ever before, but fewer young people are interested. 5/12/05


Most recent updatesHow the Bay Area's most popular media stack up.Talk about Bay Area journalism in our on-line discussion forum. A printable news scorecard you can use at home or in school. Raves and rants aimed at the local media. What would you do if you were the editor? Upcoming happenings and calls for public action. Let 'em know! Contact a local newsroom.Codes of ethics, local media advocates and journalism tools. Tip us off about the local media, or tell us how we're doing.Oops.A comprehensive list of past GTN exclusives.