The din of the pundits and panelists drowned out the voices of the Iowans at their caucus. Across the dial last night the networks from the big three, the cablers, even those outlying at the far reaches of the spectrum (Current TV) all relied on their experts to talk about the Iowa caucus instead of letting the natural sound play out… the drama play on.
The political coverage resembled a sports broadcast with play-by-play announcers vying for mic time with their color counterparts. It seemed to be a race for who was more clever, who had a better turn of phrase, who was more biting and quote-worthy instead of hearing the direct conversations that stemmed from the caucus. Sure that would have been b-o-r-i-n-g to network executives but it might have been more informative or illustrative of what the voters thought, instead of analysts assuring us what they thought the voters were thinking!

The coverage of the election s more about the commentators than even the politicians. Until we get to a point where we are being offered substantive sound bites in long form – more than 3 and 4 seconds of sound snippets, we are not being truly served by the media investing so much time, effort, energy and resources.

Things seem out of sorts. We have more channels and platforms of news coverage than ever before but they seem to be carbon copies of one another – short blips of sound and long form analysis of what views they wish to espouse. It just seems to be more about what the media thinks – what the media knows – than the reaction of prospective voters… how did they hear the candidates? What did they think of the positions, what did they feel, what impacted them?

With so many choices about coverage why does it seem that we have so few options as viewers?

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.

It’s been going on since before the verdict but now the bidding war for Casey Anthony’s story has gone big time with attorneys holed up in pricey New York hotels as they negotiate Casey for her licensing rights. That’s right – network’s don’t pay for interviews so instead they offer lavish treatment and buy the rights to photographs and other family memorabilia; it’s called the licensing rights for everything surrounding her actual tell-all tale. Payola by any other name is still wrong.

Postings in social media on this are colorful ranging from outrage and revulsion to snide comments about the ethics (or lack thereof) involved in even considering buying her story, much less rewarding her. None of this is new. None is shocking. It is what tabloids and quick-books have made fortunes on over the years. The networks should not be blamed – they are selling a product and need to corner an ever shrinking piece of the viewer’s loyalty. Sadly this is being done under the banner of news, but that seems to cause few any pain or difficulty.

Meanwhile – Casey may be in Palm Springs according to some… while cross country her lawyers are no doubt turning up the heat in their bidding war… and the weatherman said it was going to be a scorcher in New York today. No doubt.

ABC News has reportedly moved its “World News Tonight” into an automated control room, much as it had previously done with other news broadcasts including “Nightline”. I saw the story when it appeared on TVNewser .

The ‘old’ model was certainly effective for broadcasts with Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel, so there must not have been anything wrong with what they had — this is simply the future – this is automation – this is also an investment which pays dividends in the diminution of soft costs often otherwise referred to as human operators. The article featured this quote explaining the advantages, “An ABC spokesperson says: “The automated technology allows the news division to have greater uniformity and consistency in the way all broadcasts are produced – from creating a more streamlined production workflow to allowing producers more creative control throughout the production process.”

I am glad they cleared that up.

My point is this – why be obtuse? As communicators and journalists who theoretically are pledged to speak simply and accurately, why not be forthright and say this is more efficient from an economic base. The problem many people – including me – is that we read quotes like these which feel massaged – which read as saccharin, false or phony – which fail to be credulous… and because of that, we begin to feel a lack of trust, a loss of trust.

The real question is – and this has nothing to do with ABC – when did we lose our way in the world with truth? When did we decide to use words as shields for what we really don’t want to say? When did spin, manipulation and verbosity become preferable to just plain old speech?

And why does it continue – even when so many of us – maybe you – really see through it? My posting, while admittedly feeble, is my way of saying – “Caught ya! I accept your decision, but I don’t buy your words.”

Time Warner Cable reporter Suzi Theodory’s  live shot about a brush fire in Southern California becomes more about her than the fire after she is soaked by a helicopter air drop.  She transforms live from being young and inexperienced but sincerely trying into a ditzy rookie.  Sorry.  But the water drop becomes apparently more of the story about her instead of the fire as she repeatedly assures us that she and her crew are “so close to the fire”…. though this is not manifested in the pictures for there are no flames to be seen.

Note too the contradictions within the minute forty-seven second story from being “a growing fire at 10 acres” to suddenly being “almost under control” after the water drop.  Huh?  How did that happen? Oh, and by the way, one speaks of a fire being contained, not controlled, but what’s language have to do with anything when you’re all wet.  Literally.

And again, we wonder why audiences think the press is often too silly for words?

ABC Rains Money

July 11, 2011

Paying for interviews is against network standards but there is nothing prohibiting payments for licensing rights and other perks paid to news sources and potential interviewees.  The latest? A two-hundred thousand dollar ($200,000.00) payment to Casey Anthony!   It isn’t new – it happened as recently as last night (Sunday)with a six figure deal with Jaycee Dugard and her publisher for a ‘first-look’ at her story.  It has happened over many years – and each network is guilty of doing it, although ABC and NBC have been in a more financially secure position reportedly to be more lavish in their offers.

And don’t think that money only flows to the victims or good guys in such stories.  Two networks were in a fierce bidding war for the songbook of Phillip Garrido – Dugard’s admitted captor and rapist – shortly after the story broke.  Attorneys representing a friend of Mr. Garrido received six figure offerings for his songs which included lurid details of a cross country sex odyssey and other perversions.

The audience doesn’t seem to see a difference between paying for news or paying for access.  In a  celebrity driven world it seems as if we have become accustomed to the habit of stars and news makers wanting to be compensated for their first hand stories.  Networks have been more than obliging in paying sums for what guarantees them the right to brand the interview an “exclusive”.  But does all this loot change the story – does more money make it ever so much more necessary to add an adjective or color the telling of a story in a particular way to make it seem worth the cash?  One cannot demand top dollar and then disappoint the paymaster.  It wouldn’t be good for business, especially when that is show business.

It may be good for business but it is bad for ethics, and there’s just no way around that.

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.

ABC News has hired Elizabeth Smart, formerly in the news as a Utah kidnap victim when she was a child, as a correspondent assigned to kidnapping and high profile missing person cases, according to The Hollywood Reporter and reported in People Magazine.

Is this a strategic move or one aimed at creating and fostering special appreciation among victim’s families?
Is she a bona fide journalist or a talented ‘talking horse’?

The issue is simple – what’s her training, journalistic experience or story telling? Obviously she will work alongside talented producers; obviously she will be guided and hand-held… but is she being sent out as a lure to sway the sympathy of victims?

It is worth asking is this good journalism or smarmy public relations and booking?

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.

Paying for interviews? Rewarding executives or news makers or personalities for their bon mots?

Not in the old days – not when news wasn’t expected to make money – not before corporate ownership took hold and made news divisions responsible for their bottom line and turning a profit. But now, in the wild west of media frenzies thanks to networks, tabloids and scandal sheets, it’s anything goes – and the highest bidder may win, regardless of the terms or conditions associated with the interviewees’ demand.

This For Instant Ratings, Interviews With a Checkbook in a recent New York Times received very little attention, or so it seemed to me. I would have expected, maybe just hoped, for more attention to be paid to the consequences.

Once upon a time people appeared on media because it was truly an opportunity to reach a mass audience. Now thanks to a plethora of media there’s little doubt that any one can get attention, some times far too much or unwarranted attention.

Paying for interviews – or rather for access is not new. The Times piece makes it seem as if it is a recent development… it has existed for years – prime time programs have done it, programs with the most prominent of news anchors have done it. A wink and a nod and money is paid for family photos or archive material in the thin guise that this is the cover for what will become a guaranteed interview with the personality too.

It can be paid to the prospective interviewees, or it may come in the form of lavish wining and dining for friends or families. It happened during the Koby Bryant case, for John Mark Karr who confessed to the Jon Benet Ramsey killing, even to people associated with Phil Garrido who recently plead guilty to the kidnapping and rape of Jaycee Dugard. It’s just not new. And it feels skanky to do it – even when under the direct instructions of senior news managers in New York.

There are so many questions – if you pay, will some one be more forthcoming? If you pay too little, will they hold back? If you pay for one media does that count if some one else pays more for a different platform? Does payment change their story – are they more likely to juice it up to hike the price, or claim to know more than they really do — but money makes them be bold, even to the point of lying?

News divisions once had a policy that prohibited paying any one for a news story. That existed as a fire wall within news, but was not as rigid for prime time magazines or the morning shows which at some networks are produced by the entertainment divisions. Times have changed. Networks demand all programs produce a profit. And now news figures – even temporary news headliners – are sought after as exclusives. They may or may not have much to say – they may not even offer much to discourse or common knowledge – but they command payments just to speak. I don’t feel good about a lot of this whatsoever.

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