News Biz: Shock Trumps Substance

shark attack.
This column was written by CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith.
A young girl dies in a shark attack. Two days later a teen-age boy loses his leg in a similar incident. It's gruesome and sensational — and who of us hasn't been to the beach?

In local news we used to say if it bleeds, it leads, and in today's world of shock trumps substance, shark attacks rule.

I don't write this today to be insensitive to the families of the people attacked. But in the news food chain, the shark's on top, even more so than, say the missing child or coed. And bears just don't rate, I guess. A couple died this week in Alaska when a grizzly bear attacked their campsite. Bet you haven't heard about that.

It's 30 years since Stephen Spielberg made "Jaws." It was ultra-scary, and left a lot people wondering if it really is safe to go in the water. Some cable channels have been known to devote entire weeks to sharks. And while on vacation this summer, I was in a place that actually has a tourist attraction where you can pay money to go into the ocean and get dropped into a school of sharks while suspended in a cage. Fun, huh?

Sharks though, are just another roadside attraction in the news business. You'll recall that the summer before 9/11, our newscasts were filled with shark attack stories, despite the fact there were no more attacks than usual.

Face it. It's easier to cover sharks than cover real issues. You wanna know about renewing the Patriot Act — watch C-SPAN. Want tips for a shark free summer vacation? We got ya covered.

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on manyCBS Radio News affiliates across the country.

By Harry Smith