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TV Week's Couric Story Better Be Right...



....given how many news outlets across the country are presenting the Couric/CBS transition as a nearly done deal, already.

Outlets diverse as the New York Daily News, the New York Post, the Charlotte Observer and Entertainment Tonight all quoting TVWeek in news items which more or less assume she is leaving NBC to take Dan Rather's place as CBS' main news anchor.

The Daily News also quoted the TVNewser website's report that the news division has booked studio space next week at the broadcast divsion's headquarters at w. 57th St. in Manhattan. Could be for a Couric announcement...or not.

It's times like these when I grow frightened at how one report in a reputable news outlet about a highly-anticipated news story can spread across the media wilderness like wildfire. So far, no one else has yet independently confirmed TV Week's report, though many news outlets are already reporting it as fact. (UPDATE - New York Times crack Tv reporter Bill Carter has a report in Tuesday's Times echoing the TV Week story and debunking the possibility of a CBS announcement next week. So at least two outlets have done some independent reporting here.)

On Wednesday, Couric will celebrate 15 years on the Today show, honored with a montage of clips similar to those given her co-anchor, Al Roker, when his 10th anniversary came up recently. Considering how much everyone in the mediasphere is debating her upcoming decision, it seems odd that Couric might choose not to speak on it herself until then or later -- a journalist at the center of media's biggest story right now, choosing to say nothing as she did this morning.

I guess stranger things have happened in media. Like portly middle-class media critics telling a woman who already makes $13-million a year what to do with her career.

And While We're Complaining About News Coverage...

I've gotta weigh in with my other pet peeve: coverage of surveys and studies -- particularly regarding health.

The topic dujour, is a study originally published in the journal Pediatrics which surveyed kids aged 12 to 14 about their consumption of sexual content in media, checking with them two years later to see if they had sex.

"Sexy Media a Siren Call to Promiscuity" proclaimed Reuters' story on the results, while Bloomberg News noted "Teen Exposure to Sex in Media Leads to Intercourse" and ABC News said "Racy TV Shows Increase Teen Sexual Activity."

But, as if often the case in such stories, if you read past the headline, you find a different story. Indeed, it was true that researchers found kids which consumed more sexual oriented media earlier, had sex earlier. What they couldn't say for sure, however, was whether the sexy media caused the promiscuity, or was just another symptom of it.

As quoted by Health Day News, Freya Sonenstein, a professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the study was "carefully executed" but "doesn't settle the question of whether sexy media produces, causes early sexual behavior. Is it the fact that they look at these shows that gets them active, or are they more curious about everything to begin with? Or are there other factors?"

Despite strong words by the study's lead author about the link between the media and sexual behavior, even she had to admit the study didn't prove which caused the other.

In other other words, the study of more than 1,000 kids from three school districts in North Carolina couldn't distinguish between a kid who was more naturally curious about sex, starting off by seeking out sexually-oriented media, and a kid who was egged into sex by the media they were consuming. And because the results for black kids indicated they were more influenced by the attitudes of parents and peers to avoid sex -- even when they watched a lot in media -- I can't help wondering if the kids who were immersed in more sexual media also were immersed in more permissive homes.

Incisive media reports might have zeroed in on this flaw and delivered a more balanced story -- which some did. But the pull to evoke sordid images of teens pushed into early sex by music videos and episodes of Flavor of Love proved irresistible to others, leading to yet another overheated report on a study which yields far more heat than light.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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