Why do the birds go on singing? Why are there clouds in the sky? Don’t they know it’s the end of the world? Time Warner went and shut down CourtTV.com.
On Jan. 1, the smartest, most beautiful sister in a holy troika of Internety goodness went dark. Affiliated sites Crime Library and The Smoking Gun (home to delicious public documents and awesome mug shots) survived Time Warner’s purchase of Court TV. But with shamefully paltry fanfare, its award-winning news site got axed to make way for the cable channel’s rebirth as truTV .
Scott Peterson, Robert Blake, Michael Jackson, Mary Winkler, Phil Spector, the mishagoss surrounding poor JonBenét Ramsey and of course, the Crazy Astronaut Lady , all received complex coverage on CourtTV.com. Photo galleries featuring timelines, testimony and evidence; live chats allowing users to ask reporters the most picayune questions; and lots of video, all made trials pop beyond mere headlines.
Time Warner’s decision to divert resources from CourtTV.com to better support truTV, a station dedicated to filling the Reality TV’s nonexistent crap hole, is shocking but unsurprising. Consider that the completely predictable end of Anna Nicole Smith blasted the most interesting and unexpected story of 2007 (Crazy Astronaut Lady) from the headlines.
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More disturbing than another arguably misguided decision by Big Media is that this Florida-educated avatar seems to be the only one grieving the loss of this digital record of the human condition. I mean, other than CourtTV.com’s employment-liberated staff which no doubt are considerably more invested.
From major media outlets and so-called citizen journalists (you know, bloggers) to even the CourtTV chat rooms, I failed to uncover any outrage over CourtTV.com’s archive relegation — only a cursory acknowledgement buried in a Time Warner press release. To be honest, despite my daily visits, I remained completely ignorant of CourtTV.com’s fate until I saw Editor-in-Chief Jim Lyon’s eloquent farewell letter posted on the site.
Since its 1995 launch, CourtTV.com (later re titled CourtTVnews.com) grew from a cable channel’s support site to a multi-faceted Web destination featuring original writing while taking full advantage of the Internet’s interactive story-telling capabilities. Even the ambitious (yet failed) attempts to text users the Peterson and Jackson verdicts revealed the site’s visionary story-telling in the digital age.
Where else were the transcripts to Peterson’s self-incriminating phone calls to the “Other Woman,” more easily accessible? But CourtTV.com’s dedication wasn’t limited to the notorious. Intricacies in human nature bloomed in popular features such as Stupid(est) Crimes & Misdemeanors and a photo gallery featuring the last words of executed inmates.
Sensitive and/or self-deluded Internet enthusiasts might label interest in a dead man’s final message morbid. Yeah, well okay that’s probably accurate, but not necessarily negative. Accurate and non-exploitive true crime coverage allows a society to feel there’s some control in the chaos. Though perhaps an illusion, it’s nevertheless a necessary one that frees our minds to get on with the day-to-day business of having a life.
Meanwhile, Stupid(est) Crimes & Misdemeanors was just hilarious. For example:
- Thanksgiving preparations at a Utah nursing home went very, very wrong when one man threw a can of gravy at another, according to police.
- A Minnesota man is accused of assaulting a woman on his way to an anger-management class.
- A couple was sentenced in Illinois this week for trying to carry out a bank robbery — at the bank's drive-through.
This was CourtTV.com’s value. Like Shakespeare, its three-dimensional coverage of criminals, victims, death and redemption offered insights into every aspect of the human condition. No doubt it provided the eight jillion “Law & Order” franchises with more than a few plot points as well. But source material for procedural crime dramas is no match for contrived Reality TV.
Okay, so quoting Carpenters lyrics and tossing Shakespeare comparisons willy-nilly is the hyperbole of the heartbroken. Of course I realize that this is how the Web works. Following the O.J. Simpson salad days, courtroom drama eventually returned to its niche existence — one of many millions of niches in cyberspace. Things change. Awesome Web sites die. Remember Suck.com? Just like CourtTV.com, you should.
If you do, know that moving forward, it’s going to be OK. Generally I’m of the mind that the glass is half full of some kind of unidentified noxious liquid and a floating cigarette butt. But listen. Remember when “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” ended and we clung to the final season of “Angel” as the last vestige of the Buffyverse we were certain we couldn’t live without? And things seemed even darker after Fox hamstringed “Firefly”?
It took a while, but then what happened? “Battlestar Galactica”! A higher power shuts down one distraction, and another pops up. And this time there’s no waiting. As of 2008, Gawker Media officially launched its futurism and sci-fi blog, iO9. Top menu links include Books, Movies, Science and Hayden Panettiere. Awesome.
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