The announcement that The New York Times and Washington Post will cooperate on a new platform to manager reader’s comments is no doubt a leap forward in building opinion sharing and engagement. I suggest the $3.9m price tag paid for with money from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation however, going to do very little to advance knowledge or – as it is promoted – advance innovative journalism.

Ask any one what they think and no doubt they will be happy to tell you whether they have expertise or not or first-hand knowledge. Talk radio demonstrates this hour after hour. We have become a nation of people who want to share opinions before the full scope of a story has been reported. Frank Bruni wrote this. “We no longer have news. We have springboards for commentary. We have cues for Tweets. Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

Here’s the point – and no, this isn’ t a tome on the need to develop alternative funding models for contemporary journalism although that is a worthy subject for future consideration. The point is simple — once upon a time and not that long ago, major global media entities paid reporters to work and live all over the world in bureaus and to report on the news and business and politics and personalities and comings and goings that went on in those locales. That investment in human intelligence and resources paid dividends in the reportage, the understanding, the depth and context of what was happening. That investment helped to assure that there would be multiple reports – with differing views and yes, sometimes opinions, but it was all first-hand knowledge. That investment helped assure that individuals anywhere in the world could see and hear and read professionally acquired news. I embrace citizen journalism. I was among the very first to introduce it along with my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe in an ill-fated and under funded experiment called correspondents.org more long before it became ‘fashionable.’ But citizen journalism is not enough by itself. And asking for readers/viewers comments – even managing them superbly – is insufficient too.

So there goes almost $4m to build a platform to aggregate, manage and distribute the thoughts of the average man… the common Joe… the guy on the street who can’t wait to tell us what he thinks… but do I care? Do you? Really? Again quoting Frank Bruni, “Grandstanding is booming as traditional news gathering struggles to survive: It’s more easily summoned, more cheaply produced. It doesn’t require opening bureaus around the country or picking up correspondents’ travel expenses or paying them for weeks on end just to dig. So it fills publications, websites and television airtime the way noodles stretch out a casserole, until we’re looking at a media meal that’s almost all Hamburger Helper and no beef.”

We can bemoan this absence of beef but we’re not investing in making a difference.

There’s a new book about General William Westmoreland and the Vietnam war which, again, raises such serious questions about the lies we were told about the war, the progression of that war, its strategy and its failures.
Any one who remembers the “Five O’clock Follies” – the daily afternoon briefing of misinformation and manipulation of the media (and ultimately the public) by MAC-V (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) suspected at the time that the wolves were pulling the wool over the sheep’s eyes — but the military and government establishment did so with such gusto, bravado and the arrogance believing that they’d never be challenged, much less caught.
Almost a half century later we are still buffeted by the lingering effects of that war – the relationship between the military and the media has forever been changed, embeds don’t have the opportunity to report freely on what happens, and there seems to be a revisionist view among the public that any doubt or questioning is in some way unpatriotic. And that – the not-so-veiled-threat of any questioning or challenge as being akin to unpatriotic is the worst result of all.

In Iowa and New Hampshire – two small states known for their tradition of retail politics – why do we hear anchors and pundits tell us this repeatedly while there never seems to be time to hear the candidates speaking to voters? Or even more daring, why don’t we hear much of what the prospective voters think after meeting and shaking the candidate’s hands?
This is more than a sound bite – more than 10 seconds – more than rhetoric.
More than a talking point heard before or a rebuttal to some other campaign assertion.

There seems to be a disconnect. This isn’t intended as a riddle. But the coverage assures us that these are states where the candidates are saturating every town, township, city and opportunity to press the flesh and yet the coverage shows instead, primarily, the anchors and pundits talking about voter reaction instead of allowing us to hear and judge for ourselves.
In an environment with so much available air time why isn’t some network allowing time for the story to breath?

It’s the arrogance, Stupid!

September 21, 2011

The Justice Department admits it served $16 dollar muffins, $8 cups of coffee and cookies and brownies that cost $10 each at a 2009 meeting.

At a time when many Americans don’t have enough money for basic groceries this seems to be, well the word that comes to mind is excessive.

The story, appearing in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times Justice Department’s $16 dollar muffins don’t sit well, quotes Justice Department officials, “We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur,” adding that the department has taken steps “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”

Good messaging. Good Crisis Management.

Maybe they might have thought about the ramifications of the decision to spend so much before they thought they were so entitled. But it proves the old media adage, you never get caught for the crime when you do it but always for the cover-up or the discover.

A new low in the war against free speech, open debate, tolerance of views other than those of our own and civility… a new example of a politician stifling debate in what appears to be an effort to prevent an embarrassment.
Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) open town hall with his constituents seems to have been so controversial that the Congressman’s staff requested police disrupt and confiscate citizen-made videos. You’ve got to watch those taxpayers – those interested citizens – those just plain folk-who-no-doubt-have-turned-terrorsist-agents lest they do something really radical like post a video on youtube.com.

It is simply difficult to image what was so threatening to the Congressman that it was worth the fuss and furor of requesting police intervention. It is also mystifying why the police felt compelled to step in where there was no overt or even apparent threat to civil order.

This has the same big-brother feel of overt-over reaction. It raises the question, didn’t we fight a revolution against the British for their same Draconian tactics limiting free speech, open assembly and the right to protest? Are some of us – perhaps among them elected officials – forgetting our own history and roots?

How many of us have been stopped, hassled and at times subjected to a Torquemada inquisition over taking pictures of the exterior of a Federal Building?

A Federal Court has ruled the public may make pictures and Homeland Security has changed the rules instructing their security officers not to prohibit or infringe on the public’s right.

Worth printing and having as part of your kit.

A longer version appears here.

I write in support of free speech, no matter how loathsome it may taste. But the ultimate question – how is it that personalities like Glenn Beck continue to receive the attention, the coverage, and yes even comments like these before the public mindset simply says, “Basta. No more. Good bye.”

On his radio show and reported in the Los Angeles Times Monday Beck said, “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”

Is Beck delusional? Hateful? Is he trying to stir the pot to further his own ambitions, dependent on promoting his own notoriety, regardless of how vile it may be to many? Clearly his departure at FOX was born of falling ratings, declining sponsors, embarrassment and ultimately the network’s decision to cast away a program which had run its course, fulfilled it mission and was no longer something (or some one) they wanted to be associated with.

So what was his agenda in making these remarks? Does he believe that this was a camp a la Hitler youth? Could he be serious, or is he just messing with the audience?

And yet, the monster of hate and bigotry and irresponsibility lives… it clearly lives in Beck’s dark heart and worse, probably too it lives among some of his faithful. Clearly the Los Angeles Times found it newsworthy to report. A Google search at 553p PT Monday on “Beck and Hitler Youth” yields 160,000 hits! Imagine… in just a few short hours… from his lips to Internet phenomenon.

So yes, free speech lives – and fortunately condemnation is alive too. Irresponsible speech lives freely. Hateful, nasty, unimaginable things are said and written by Beck and others – Beck just gets an overwhelming response… What disturbs me the most is that he probably contrived his comments to provoke just such a reaction.

Free speech comes at a price. Unfortunately Beck is using up the currency at an alarming rate.

So little is real any more.  Laugh tracks on sit coms tell us where the writers and producers want us to giggle, synched musical performances replace authentic concert or live performances.  They are both examples of sweetening the ‘real thing’ or how we ought to feel about something naturally as they change, ever so slightly altering the natural event itself.  We electronically mask the things we don’t want to hear – wind noise – any distraction – even to the point that an event itself no longer bears much resemblance to the real thing.

And now along comes CBS – apparently guilty for creating fake fireworks over Boston!  Fireworks on the Charles River – for long acknowledged as one of the great pyrotechnic shows in the United States – but that wasn’t good enough for CBS entertainment!  Their producer superimposed those spectacular fireworks over Fenway Park and the State Capitol dome!  The deception was caught by Bostonians who recognized that both locations were in the opposite direction from the Charles, and that it was geographically impossible to have seen nary a flare there.

Defending his decision the producer David Mugar told the Boston Globe, “…said the added images were above-board because the show was entertainment and not news. He said it was no different than (sic) TV drama producer David E. Kelley using scenes from his native Boston in his show “Boston Legal” but shooting the bulk of each episode on a studio set in Hollywood. “Absolutely, we’re proud to show scenes from our city,” Mugar said. “It’s often only shown in film or in sporting matches. We were able to highlight great places in Boston, historical places with direct ties to the Fourth. So we think it was a good thing.”
He’ll have to explain to me the historic significance of Fenway Park to July 4th.  But maybe I am being too strict in my interpretation of Boston’s Revolutionary History?

When caught CBS declined to comment to the paper, but the Boston Globe’s media critic did write, “It is an ethical issue, and to say it’s not because the show was aired through CBS Entertainment is to imply that the entertainment side of CBS has no ethics…”

I think it is just disappointing.  Did Mugar think those great fireworks were simply not great enough and needed his artistic touch to make them even better?  Who’s he to judge?  And how’s the audience to know what’s real and fake, or to be misled to think one thing over the truth, just because it was an iconic picture?

And we should wonder why so few people in the audience trust anything they hear or see or told?  Maybe we ought to ask ourselves what we’ve done to pollute their opinion of us

A more complete story can be found here.

Can some one explain to me the use of the word “HISTORIC” being flaunted by the media to describe today’s meeting between Mrs. Michelle Obama and Nelson Mandela?

Why is it historic? She isn’t a head of state… she isn’t conducting bilateral talks… there are no negotiations between our countries – at least none that is revealed to date.

Is it important? i suppose yes…. certainly to her and her daughters… but to the rest of us?

Why does the news media use the word historic to describe what was a brief and in diplomatic terms nothing more than a courtesy meeting?

In the scope of time, or the Obama presidency, in terms of international relations between South Africa and the United States this will hardly be termed ‘historic’. So why does the media use the word, as if to credit her with something more significant than what it really was?

Am I missing something? (And no – this isn’t about race, black leaders or women’s rights…), this is just an observation about the word choice used by networks and local stations to categorize an event – or characterize it? Maybe both.

Four hundred seventy eight pages… that’s what it took to conclude that the state of local news in the digital age is in a serious state o’ crisis, with apologies to O’Casey.

This is the latest from the FCC on the sorry state of local news in the digital age. Not only did the FCC prepare the report at taxpayer expense but additionally paid for a commissioned news piece on paidcontent.org FCC Report Cites Lack Of Local News, But Has No Ideas To Fill The Gap.

The findings are not surprising, “There’s a big gap in local news reporting. There are fewer newspaper reporters covering “essential beats” like courts, schools, local affairs. The number of reporters in key places of government has dropped considerably. In New Jersey, for example, the number of statehouse reportesr (sic) dropped from 35 to 15 between 2003 and 2008. In the same time period, California went from 40 to 29; in Texas from 28 to 18; in Georgia, from 14 to 5.
Daily newspapers cut their editorial spending by $1.6 billion per year from 2006 to 2009; staff has shrunk more than 25 percent since 2006…
The report describes local TV as a kind of news wasteland. The stations are generally pumping up the volume of news while reducing staff, and give short shrift to serious topics like education, health care, and government. The report cites a TV news study by the Annenberg School of Communications that found such hard news topics took up a little over one minute in a 30-minute news broadcast. While coverage of city government withers, crime news proliferates. And the report notes the disturbing trend of “pay-for-play” arrangements, as well as the airing of “video press releases” masquerading as news.
Cable news is thriving on a national level but remains stunted at a local level. Only about 25 to 30 percent of the population can watch a local news show on cable.”

The Annenberg Lear Center study which came out in May 2010 Lear Center Report: sports & weather, crime, fluff dominate L.A. TV news makes a frightening case for the diminishing amount of substantive news and the value placed on important stories by news managers.

Look – it’s no secret that consultants have ruined local news – as well as the lack of commitment from station owners, managers, news directors and others of fiscal ilk. News was never profitable and for the vast majority of the 20th century, news was not profitable. In the late 1980s when it became essential to stations that news make money, all semblance of reality was lost. Now shows that proclaim to be news programs are dominated by traffic and weather – because that’s what consultants say the public cares most about… This is the most ephemeral of all substance… the least consequential… and yet it dominates in terms of new devices, maps and computer animations and a significant commitment of the total time of each news program.

Is it any wonder why so few audience surveys find that audiences treat news programs seriously, or make the evening news appointment television night after night, or where loyalty to a program or presenter was once a staple and is now a mater of convenience or happenstance? We’ve polluted the audience by offering features and soft stories as early as 5 or 7 minutes into the programs…. features which once would have been relegated to the end of the news show as a ‘kicker’ but which now appear earlier and earlier each show in order to give the audience something ‘light’ and ‘entertaining’ and ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to something which the editors felt was necessary and important and consequential.

This isn’t just a situation (problem) with local news. Watch many of the network programs and you can see the same symptoms about story selection and placement – an erosive degredation of what news ought to be presented contrasted with what is presented in the guise of news so that the audience will stay tuned.

We wonder why at a time when audiences say they’ve never been better informed thanks to digital content when in fact it appears that they have never known as little or less about so many stories, in spite of digital technology and delivery.

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