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A sometimes-current tenet of TV news production. The premise is that what people want to see first--the lead story--on the 11pm news is death and destruction, further evidence that our society is utterly doomed, more reason to tsk and shake your head and be glad you're not the poor bastard bleeding on TV.

Fortunately, not all newsrooms adhere to this all the time. I have the good fortune to work in one that does not.

Unless.

You can't ignore news, at least not in the news business. If that five-car pileup tied up traffic on the major interstate for hours, chances are there's a good portion of your audience talking about it at news time. You owe it to them to explain what's going on, and of course in TV, show pictures.

A stabbing in downtown? A ruckus, and gossip, rumors, and police tape? Might be a lead. Not because it's violent, per se, but because it's what people are talking about.

Do we let it dominate the news? Not by policy, not in our newsroom. But then, that's a newsie's perception. What's the audience think?

I was sitting at my desk just last Friday night. Getting ready to go live with some trivial news. Took a call. It was a viewer, asking whether the news, itself, had changed.

"Pardon? I don't understand the question."

"Has the news changed? Your lead story isn't a shooting."

I glanced over to the monitor at my left. We were running a positive, happy story about people turning out for a popular charity event.

"Uh, we do non-shooting stories all the time."

"No, you don't. It's usually a shooting."

I began to explain to him that we had no "if it bleeds, it leads" policy and were all about good news in the community...unless.

By the time my caller had gotten well into how full of BS I was, we were at the end of our second story about something not quite joyful, but totally innocuous. Then came the blood.

"A brutal shooting on the city's east side," read the anchor, with the obligitory glock graphic above his shoulder.

"Oh, there it is," said my caller, who promptly hung up.

Funny thing is, I haven't thought again about this till now, days later.

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