HuffPost Live ‘remembers’ bath salts in accidental case study of media hype

HuffPost Live, the new streaming video channel launched last week, has in its short history already established a recurring bit called “HuffPost Live Remembers.”

Each “Remembers” looks back at a recent, usually short-lived, story that captivated the press. The twist is they do so in a video tribute reminiscent of the “In Memoriam” package shown at The Oscars complete with funereal music. It’s cute, and kind of funny.

But the video produced about bath salts brings with it a bit of accidental resonance.

In just under a minute, it takes the viewer back in time a few months to when the media first began freaking out about bath salts, thanks in large part to (incorrect) reports that the so-called Miami cannibal was way high on them when he bit a chunk out of another man.

Have a look:

Again, it’s a fun bit. But the fact that the video tells the story of bath salts media hype and sensationalism using only stories published by The Huffington Post transforms it into a healthy bit of media self-criticism. Rather than just telling the story of bath salts, it becomes a look at how HuffPost itself was part of the media hype machine.

Now, I’m not saying HuffPost’s bath salts coverage was any worse than others. It should also be noted that today the site has multiple stories with the correct information about the cannibal case. In fact, the top story on HuffPost’s Bath Salts page shows the cannibal and his victim and declares, “It Wasn’t Bath Salts.” They also offer a direct link to a solid Reason piece that unpacks the bath salts media hype. All good.

But, wow, imagine if news organizations made a regular habit of packaging up reporting on problematic stories for future viewing and learning? It would be wonderful to see effort made to spread “lessons learned” content, for example, the way the U.S Military does.

What better way to promote quality work than to highlight the good, bad and ugly of the past and very recent past? Even better if it can be done in an amusing, spreadable form like “HuffPost Remembers.”

This was probably just a happy accident. “The HuffPost Live Remembers: Bath Salts” video follows the same format as the other looks back. For example, here’s “HuffPostLive Remembers: Herman Cain’s Presidential Campaign”

Watch similar versions for LinsanityKony, and “Secret Service Prostitutes.”

All brief, amusing looks back. All filled only with HuffPost content.

Even if unintended, I think this feature could end up being a useful, constant reminder of the media hype cycle.

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