May 9, 2010
News producers, managers and all those create news – the content which is the stuff that keeps the soap commercials from bumping in to one another – seem to me to be more frantic, ever-so-driven to capture and hold their audiences. More than ever before it seems that they too have drunk the Kool-Aide and now piously justify their hype as necessary to lure and secure audiences. Sadly though this is getting sillier and sillier as boasts are proclaimed that cannot be defended, promises are assured that cannot be delivered, and audiences – like you and me – feel more cheated.
It just feels like an era of news abuse – instead of trust – is in vogue and in turn, professionals are defending what is indefensible, hype.
For instance on a weekend report about the death of a University of Virginia co-ed the network anchors assuredly promise “we’ll have the latest on the investigation when we return.” Really? On a Saturday? On a Saturday when investigators are not visible to the media and when there has been no news release from the police. So the latest is… actually, when? Yesterday! And so it has already been… reported? And when? Yesterday! And so the boast of having the latest news coming up is really just a… hype? A tease? And that’s somehow OK… or if as professionals you knew there was truly nothing new, was the hype a lie? A white lie? Or just a plain old-fashioned whopper since it was uttered with the prior knowledge that it was untrue.
Or for instance the Today show used the word “Exclusive” six (6) times about a single guest. Exclusive appeared twice in anchor copy and four times as a graphic. Are producers so desperate to convey the appearance of superior coverage that they cannot let that content speak for itself but must instead wrap it with banners and bravado to drive the point home? Or maybe there is such churn in the viewership that the constant reminders of exclusivity are the only hooks remaining to lure viewers? But if that’s the case then all the exclusives that appear day in and day out are not attracting audiences but may instead be repelling viewers who are tired of being abused with adjectives masquerading as important content.
It seems the corruption of the profession runs deep… as deep as our own self-identity. A national radio show on journalism featured a guest who said, “reporters are now packagers” of news and claimed that he didn’t need to report because he had sufficient “listening posts” to tell him what was going on. It feels a little absurd to ask, but I am mystified because if reporters are not going to report, then who is? And listening posts, who are they… and how do we trust his definition of who is responsible, and ultimately, who is vouching for them? It is the proverbial slippery slope and, whoops! We’ve started sliding.
Another panelist on this NPR program spoke of reporters whose job it was to now contextualize the news. And a third said it was now completely correct for reporters to have an opinion and allow that to be reflected in their work. I always thought that was opinion… not reporting. Isn’t that what Op-Ed pages and Editorials are for? Is the new era of reporting relegating those columns to the dust bin of old journalism too?
We’re mired in the new words of the language – we have “commoditized” news to the point that it is most important to monetize it… even at risk of becoming homogenized content so as not to offend or challenge any one. We are all now “content producers” which I suppose means we are all – as I am here – able to write and self publish, somewhat regardless of our authority or authenticity. We speak passionately of being in touch or tune with our communities, although that seeks somewhat murky and ill-defined. Is my community that of those who are overweight white 50-somethings of general affluence living in well-to-do communities featuring overpriced homes that represent much of our life-worth and that we fear could be depreciating in the current economic downturn? Is that my community? And if it is, pray tell, how is any one going to monetize me?
Look – the point is this – let’s watch our words. Our boasts. Our claims when we really know better. Words matter. That’s my clarion call. Let’s think about the new clichés that serve little purpose but to make us sound au courant and quote-worthy. Adjectives are colorful but when we use them intentionally to be misleading aren’t we all guilty of cheapening our profession? Of course. What’s wrong with reporting being the benchmark of what’s important, significant – the adage: news is the first draft of history?
What do you think? Leave a comment… let me know.