Wick Communications

Giving the news a Sheen

In Media on 4 Mar 2011 at 9:21 am

Since no one else is doing so, let’s talk about Charlie Sheen, shall we? Actually, let’s just talk about the talk about Charlie Sheen.

By the time you read this, two-and-a-half-million of us likely will have subscribed to the Two-and-a-Half Men star’s Twitter feed – and that is just in a matter of days. Since the Hollywood celebrity began his nonstop self-analysis, he has appeared on every medium known to man. While other celebrities have the good sense to zip it after a couple of wayward comments, Sheen is clearly thrilled with his ability to command the spotlight. Many of us say we have no stomach for it, but there is obviously an appetite for his every sound bite.

Two questions: Is any of this news? And, even if it is, should we be enabling a man who many of us think is off his rocker?

The answer to the first question is “yes.” At least for some outlets. Sheen is a star of the highest order and has made untold millions of dollars for his employers over the years. When he is arrested or fired its news for outlets that routinely cover celebrity news.

I doubt any Wick papers have mentioned Sheen in more than a passing way – ever. While we all get painted with the same broad media brush, good community newspapers really don’t use touch this kind of stuff. There is no question that newspapers devote less space to this sort of thing than do some online publications, magazines and television generally. This Pew Center report breaks it down and also shows that younger readers are more apt to blame the public than the media for overblown accounts of celebrity stuff. That’s interesting…

There is one aspect of the Sheen sensation that is of note for those of us in the community news business. If we have reason to believe we are talking to a source who is not fully in possession of his or her faculties, do we have a responsibility to help?

There was a time when I would have given an unqualified “no” to that question. Now I think the answer is more involved. I think we may very well have a moral obligation – to the community we serve – to seek help for individuals we believe could be violent or suicidal. It’s hard to consider this in the abstract. While I don’t necessarily think an ABC news reporter has an obligation to help a manic Hollywood celebrity who may well be acting in his own financial self-interest, I think I might have an obligation to help if I run into a source in Half Moon Bay whom I think may be dangerous to himself or others. What do you think?

I hope that makes sense and I hope that you will take a moment away from Googling Sheen to think about the real questions he presents for us.


  1. The amount of time and space devoted to Charlie Sheen is an absolute embarrassment to the entire profession. Have our standards, as a whole, decayed to a point where we have to hang on to every word of a drunken, sex-addicted celebrity who is obviously enjoying himself playing us like his own PR agency?
    As journalists we must rise above giving credibility and unnecessary ink or air time to the tomfoolery of celebrities just because they are in a hit show, or can throw a football 100 yards. Unfortunately, the needle seems to be pointed in the opposite direction, and we should all be ashamed for that.
    Clay, that’s a great point about the source. Honestly, though, I am no psychiatrist nor am I trained in psychology. Who can define another person’s “normal?” I’ve done several stories on homeless people in the past who I would have thought may be off center but it was their way of life and in no way they want to come off of the streets. They were in their comfort zone. I think if we try to go beyond that we start down a slippery slope with an uncertain bottom. That said, if we are aware of violent behavior then it’s our responsibility as human beings, and not necessarily journalists, to report that for the safety of our fellow human beings.

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