Dateline NBC Rips the Lid Off...iPod Theft?
Some intensive investigation into an important news story, like, say, shoddy foster homes or child slavery rings?
Not exactly. Instead, Dateline NBC devoted all these resources -- along with the time and attention of star correspondent Chris Hansen -- to the pressing problem of iPod theft.
And so, spurred on by a senior Dateline producer's experience of seeing his child's iPod stolen, Hansen and Co. set out to prove that a) if you leave a new ipod in a box unattended in a mall or parking lot, someone will probably take it b) that person will likely be an impulsive teenager or someone who will resell it cheap and c) Apple won't do a whole lot to help you get it back.
This is the problem that media critics have seen coming as network news divisions become more closely entwined with entertainment divisions; great gobs of newsmagazine time eaten up by trivial reports.
While the cable newschannels were buried in the serious news of the collapsed bridge in Minneapolis -- a crisis which NBC dealt with by cutting in with brief updates from anchor Brian Williams -- the network focused on last night's hourlong iPod report.
Hansen and his team actually consulted with a software company to create a registration disk for a batch of 20 new iPods which would send the user's information back to Dateline along with Apple. They then left their gimmicked ipods in various public places in three different states. If anyone who took an iPod used the software inside the box to activate it, they would be prompted to enter personal information which would then be transmitted to Dateline.
Of course, the money shot came when Hansen determined where the Ipod theives were and rolled up in the Winnebago -- ostensibly to give them a special prize. But once inside, they got the Catch a Predator treatment, confronted with video evidence of their thefts, or informed that others bought the ipod as stolen property.
I must admit, I was impressed at how Hansen and his crew stretched this story out over an hour -- mostly by tapping into legitimate frustration by iPod users that Apple does little or nothing to help victims of iPod theft recover their property.
(As is detailed here, Apple could theoretically track a stolen iPod by flagging it when the new owner tried to download music into it through iTunes. Though this web site posits Apple wants to make money by forcing victims to buy new ipods, I'm thinking they don't want to spend the money to hire all the extra personnel to field the thousands of requests for iPod tracking they would receive -- to say nothing of the extra computing power required to bird dog all the requests)
There have been boring old traditional stories about ipod theft for years: how it is increasingly becoming a problem on subways and in schools; how Apple is developing technolgoy that will prevent a stolen iPod from ever charging again if it is hooked up to an unauthorized computer. How some people are hiding their ipods in a fake Zune to avoid theft (that last one is a joke, I think)
As a proud owner of multiple iPods, I sympathized with the effort. But i also couldn't help wondering what kind of journalism we might have seen had such an effort been made to explore a more substantive topic (and yes i'm aware that this criticism is coming from the guy at rhe newspaper who gets paid to write about television)