NEW ORLEANS -- Back when Princess Diana died, it was already happening. Now it's gotten much worse.
"It" is the thinning out of news -- especially broadcast news -- ranks on the weekends. Princess Di's horrific accident happened on a Saturday, just like the shocking shooting incident in Tuscon. "News happens", to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, and it also happens on weekends.
Yet news organizations, and the bean-counters who run them, have consistently made two decisions in recent years. First, it's cheaper (and more ratings-productive) to hire bookers to Rolodex in vituperative guest yakkers than it is to hire reporters; Second it's cheaper (screw the ratings!) to have far fewer employees working on Saturdays. Sundays get a few more humans, to produce the yak shows.
Could this trend have anything to do with the egregious error NPR -- and then Reuters -- made in jumping to the conclusion that Rep. Giffords had been killed in the assassination attempt? A few more hands on deck might have led to better reporting. At least, that's going to be my assumption, unless proven otherwise.
But, rest assured: As with the aftermath of the Diana story, broadcast media will swarm-cover this story in the week to come. By next Saturday, the newsrooms will be manned by another skeleton shift.
Follow Harry Shearer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/theharryshearer