Hail, Hail Trumpmania

The NYT’s piece “Trump Bows Out, but Spotlight Barely Dims” focuses attention on the hoopla surrounding Donald Trump and Trumpmania in the media.

But the most salient question is posed by former Ronald Reagan adviser Stuart Spencer “The media made him, the media kept him, the media kept promoting him…. Speaking of the proliferation of news outlets interested in politics, Mr. Spencer, 84 and admittedly fascinated by the new landscape, lamented, “There’s no referee anymore to evaluate what are serious issues and what are serious candidates.”

So who should be the referees? Who has the stature, the clout, the reputation, the gravitas, the following, the audience loyalty and confidence, the trust?

Just posing the question – is the media a paper watchdog? A toy tiger? What role should the media play – apart from monitoring and worse, fostering the noise?

Huckabee from the sidelines

Until this weekend’s unexpected announcement that he would not be running for President former Arkansas Governor and currently Fox News host Mike Huckabee was a leading contender for the 2012 Republic nomination.

But I wonder whether this early decision to bow out of the race was a strategic move to separate himself from the rough and tumble of a divisive and expensive primary campaign and wait until other candidates have destroyed themselves, battered and bruised the party, before a fractured convention proclaims Huckabee their nominee by acclamation?

Will it be easier – simpler – less costly on all levels – for Huckabee to comment from the media sidelines instead of subjecting himself to the political discourse and voter approval?

FOX news – O’Reilly and Hannity in particular – are already harping that the “mainstream media” will be highly partisan in this campaign – AKA, code for liberal and pro Obama. It seems so disingenuous for FOX to proclaim itself a David vs. Goliath… when Rupert Murdoch already owns such a piece of global media it seems insouciant to play the ingenue.

But what of FOX News commentator Huckabee? Will he be impartial… entirely neutral? Or will his comments by partisan, fomenting debate and suggesting how he’d handle an issue differently? Will Fox be his platform, his messenger until a blistering convention brawl results in no clear candidate from within the party and a call for Huckabee to become the standard bearer?

Just wondering aloud… will FOX police their host, or should they in an arena of free speech? But is this a strategy of Murdoch to truly have a candidate from within his broadcast empire? Maybe it is too much a grassy knoll theory. Perhaps.

Anchors Awash

Sometimes when anchors go into the field to show their commitment to the audience they seem to forget that it isn’t about their glow or their presence. This is a pretty blunt MEMPHIS: IT’S ALL ABOUT DIANE SAWYER piece attacking ABC anchor Diane Sawyer for her presence as well as coverage of the Mississippi floods.
It’s a good reminder that the media is not the story – has never been the story – should never be the story.

With all the equipment involved – and the high financial stakes – remember this is May sweeps time – it is easy to forget the media is only and forever witnesses to history. Just the witness, not the story.

Do anchors add to the coverage? Or drain resources, no pun intended for the flood story? Do people in trauma ‘relate’ to anchors better than they respond to journeymen reporters with more connection to the territory?

You be the judge.

Staged photo ops – staged anything is problematic

A good piece by Poynter Photographers debate what should replace staged photo opps now that White House is ending the practice”raises questions for the political campaign and corporate world too — at what point should all publications cease to use staged, canned or handout video? What happened to the insistence by media to do it alone – to do it ourselves – to vouch for it because we knew it to be true, honest and authentic?
A good debate – the piece raises both ethical as well as technical considerations. It also raises questions of ownership and bragging rights… all part of the nature of this debate.

Knee Jerks & Reaction – Free speech or Gun Control?

Whether the tragedy in Arizona was caused by bulls-eyes on web sites or placards or vitriol may never be fully known. But in the response to this tragedy – to say or do something that will make us feel better – we again see a typical American response of “let’s put a band-aid on this” right away. There are already urgent calls for a quick-fix regardless of its long-term implications.

By Sunday there were calls in the media and Congress to restrict what can be said or used in political advertisements. There were calls to limit free speech. There were calls to put limits and penalties on what could be said in a country where it has been our historic right to protect free speech – even when some of what is said is odious.

It seems peculiar that these proponents are seeking to put a fix on free speech instead of looking at the real problem – the absolute proliferation of handguns – semi automatic weapons better suited for war than for sale at a sports store to an individual who will most likely plead an insanity defense for his senseless and selfish actions.

It would be a sad ending to this tragedy that our rights become victims of emotional decisions and knee jerk reaction.

Stupid is as stupid does – again

Sitting in for Sean Hannity on FOX News this week Tucker Carlson called for Michael Vicks execution for pet abuse. Gawker has the clip.
Is this for ratings? Attention? Is it racism? Is it just reality TV?

The question of why the FOX bosses allow this is obvious – cloaked in “free speech” it garners attention and column inches, like these.

But is any one thinking of the longer term damage to discourse? Of course, if it is Tucker’s opinion calling for executions of pet abuses, then he’s welcome to it. Maybe he wants his own show again and feels this is the best way to accomplish that goal. But it just doesn’t pass the smell test of reasonableness… So why say it? For effect? For attention? One can only surmise he was motivated by being quote-worthy. He succeeded. But at what price?

What is the price for discourse? What is editorially responsible? Where is the line? Where are the editors? The managers? The grown-ups?

Ted Koppel in the Washington Post

This is well worth reading.

Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O’Reilly and the death of real news
By Ted Koppel
Sunday, November 14, 2010
To witness Keith Olbermann – the most opinionated among MSNBC’s left-leaning, Fox-baiting, money-generating hosts – suspended even briefly last week for making financial contributions to Democratic political candidates seemed like a whimsical, arcane holdover from a long-gone era of television journalism, when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust.

Back then, a policy against political contributions would have aimed to avoid even the appearance of partisanship. But today, when Olbermann draws more than 1 million like-minded viewers to his program every night precisely because he is avowedly, unabashedly and monotonously partisan, it is not clear what misdemeanor his donations constituted. Consistency?

We live now in a cable news universe that celebrates the opinions of Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly – individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship and who are encouraged to do so by their parent organizations because their brand of analysis and commentary is highly profitable.

The commercial success of both Fox News and MSNBC is a source of nonpartisan sadness for me. While I can appreciate the financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases, the trend is not good for the republic. It is, though, the natural outcome of a growing sense of national entitlement. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s oft-quoted observation that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” seems almost quaint in an environment that flaunts opinions as though they were facts.

And so, among the many benefits we have come to believe the founding fathers intended for us, the latest is news we can choose. Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.

It is also part of a pervasive ethos that eschews facts in favor of an idealized reality. The fashion industry has apparently known this for years: Esquire magazine recently found that men’s jeans from a variety of name-brand manufacturers are cut large but labeled small. The actual waist sizes are anywhere from three to six inches roomier than their labels insist.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter that we are being flattered into believing what any full-length mirror can tell us is untrue. But when our accountants, bankers and lawyers, our doctors and our politicians tell us only what we want to hear, despite hard evidence to the contrary, we are headed for disaster. We need only look at our housing industry, our credit card debt, the cost of two wars subsidized by borrowed money, and the rising deficit to understand the dangers of entitlement run rampant. We celebrate truth as a virtue, but only in the abstract. What we really need in our search for truth is a commodity that used to be at the heart of good journalism: facts – along with a willingness to present those facts without fear or favor.

To the degree that broadcast news was a more virtuous operation 40 years ago, it was a function of both fear and innocence. Network executives were afraid that a failure to work in the “public interest, convenience and necessity,” as set forth in the Radio Act of 1927, might cause the Federal Communications Commission to suspend or even revoke their licenses. The three major broadcast networks pointed to their news divisions (which operated at a loss or barely broke even) as evidence that they were fulfilling the FCC’s mandate. News was, in a manner of speaking, the loss leader that permitted NBC, CBS and ABC to justify the enormous profits made by their entertainment divisions.

On the innocence side of the ledger, meanwhile, it never occurred to the network brass that news programming could be profitable.

Until, that is, CBS News unveiled its “60 Minutes” news magazine in 1968. When, after three years or so, “60 Minutes” turned a profit (something no television news program had previously achieved), a light went on, and the news divisions of all three networks came to be seen as profit centers, with all the expectations that entailed.

I recall a Washington meeting many years later at which Michael Eisner, then the chief executive of Disney, ABC’s parent company, took questions from a group of ABC News correspondents and compared our status in the corporate structure to that of the Disney artists who create the company’s world-famous cartoons. (He clearly and sincerely intended the analogy to flatter us.) Even they, Eisner pointed out, were expected to make budget cuts; we would have to do the same.

I mentioned several names to Eisner and asked if he recognized any. He did not. They were, I said, ABC correspondents and cameramen who had been killed or wounded while on assignment. While appreciating the enormous talent of the corporation’s cartoonists, I pointed out that working on a television crew, covering wars, revolutions and natural disasters, was different. The suggestion was not well received.

The parent companies of all three networks would ultimately find a common way of dealing with the risk and expense inherent in operating news bureaus around the world: They would eliminate them. Peter Jennings and I, who joined ABC News within a year of each other in the early 1960s, were profoundly influenced by our years as foreign correspondents. When we became the anchors and managing editors of our respective programs, we tried to make sure foreign news remained a major ingredient. It was a struggle.

Peter called me one afternoon in the mid-’90s to ask whether we at “Nightline” had been receiving the same inquiries that he and his producers were getting at “World News Tonight.” We had, indeed, been getting calls from company bean-counters wanting to know how many times our program had used a given overseas bureau in the preceding year. This data in hand, the accountants constructed the simplest of equations: Divide the cost of running a bureau by the number of television segments it produced. The cost, inevitably, was deemed too high to justify leaving the bureau as it was. Trims led to cuts and, in most cases, to elimination.

The networks say they still maintain bureaus around the world, but whereas in the 1960s I was one of 20 to 30 correspondents working out of fully staffed offices in more than a dozen major capitals, for the most part, a “bureau” now is just a local fixer who speaks English and can facilitate the work of a visiting producer or a correspondent in from London.

Much of the American public used to gather before the electronic hearth every evening, separate but together, while Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith offered relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know. The ritual permitted, and perhaps encouraged, shared perceptions and even the possibility of compromise among those who disagreed.

It was an imperfect, untidy little Eden of journalism where reporters were motivated to gather facts about important issues. We didn’t know that we could become profit centers. No one had bitten into that apple yet.

The transition of news from a public service to a profitable commodity is irreversible. Legions of new media present a vista of unrelenting competition. Advertisers crave young viewers, and these young viewers are deemed to be uninterested in hard news, especially hard news from abroad. This is felicitous, since covering overseas news is very expensive. On the other hand, the appetite for strongly held, if unsubstantiated, opinion is demonstrably high. And such talk, as they say, is cheap.

Broadcast news has been outflanked and will soon be overtaken by scores of other media options. The need for clear, objective reporting in a world of rising religious fundamentalism, economic interdependence and global ecological problems is probably greater than it has ever been. But we are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers.

As you may know, Olbermann returned to his MSNBC program after just two days of enforced absence. (Given cable television’s short attention span, two days may well have seemed like an “indefinite suspension.”) He was gracious about the whole thing, acknowledging at least the historical merit of the rule he had broken: “It’s not a stupid rule,” he said. “It needs to be adapted to the realities of 21st-century journalism.”

There is, after all, not much of a chance that 21st-century journalism will be adapted to conform with the old rules. Technology and the market are offering a tantalizing array of channels, each designed to fill a particular niche – sports, weather, cooking, religion – and an infinite variety of news, prepared and seasoned to reflect our taste, just the way we like it. As someone used to say in a bygone era, “That’s the way it is.”

Ted Koppel, who was managing editor of ABC’s “Nightline” from 1980 to 2005, is a contributing analyst for “BBC World News America.”

OutFOXed or smarter than one?

In an editorial tip-of-the-hat to its generally conservative audience, the self-proclaimed fair and balanced FOX network has built a lineup of high profile, high-powered anchors and contributors, including former governors Mike Huckabee (R-Arkansas) and Sarah Pallin (R-Alaska) among others. It has been an effective strategy that has been coined “talk radio right” and remains largely popular among audiences and, in turn, many advertisers.

Politico points out in today’s The Fox primary: complicated, contractual that with 4 FOX regulars now exploring the possibility of running for president in 2012, at what point does the news network have to make a choice — drop these popular talent entirely; disclose its inherent political support by providing them an unlimited, unhindered platform; assure audiences that coverage is fair and balanced regardless of political ambition or finances; or appoint an ombudsman?
Fox is already counting down the days to this November’s mid-term elections. It would be fair to assume a similar countdown clock to 2012 will be unveiled shortly after November 2, 2010… so, when is the proper time to establish some distance?
It is abundantly clear that Ms. Pallin is already campaigning for something, endorsing GOP candidates and appearing for tea party fund-raisers nationwide. Messrs. Gingrich and Huckabee routinely appear on the political circuit of speeches as they graze the chicken dinners and sample the audience’s response to their message.

Is this apparent conflict of interest a problem for FOX? To an old ethicist it would seem unseemly. How can a network cover one of its own without bias? Without criticism or the basis of impartiality? Or, can it?

But what if this is the new standard? Is FOX comfortable evolving from “Your Election HQ” to becoming the “voice of the nation network”? By covering only those it appears to favor, from Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, raising awareness and money for their campaigns, is FOX also building the inside track on whatever news and politics from within those in power, those it backed, and those who are dependent on their access to the FOX mouthpiece?

So – has FOX been outFOXed as Politico might suggest, or does the network care? Do they need to? Surely the toothless FCC is in no position to do anything.
In what is an essentially changing media world has FOX simply been the first to pick and back the candidates it favors? Too Machiavellian or just plain strategic?

And what happens after the votes are cast and it is time to pay the piper?

The power of one – a man sings out in protest

There are others who take stages across America to poke fun or satire at contemporary events. I’d venture to suggest they rarely get the attention they deserve. Mr. Seeger is testimonial evidence of a life lived well in pursuit of his passion, in honor of his beliefs, and his desire to persuade others to think and share his commitment.

Pete Seeger is an American legend, a troubadour who at 91 can still raise his voice to shine light on what he believes is wrong. His most recent target is BP for its culpability in the gulf oil spill off Louisiana, and his recording of “God’s Counting on Me, God’s Counting on You” was recently recorded in New York. In his aging voice there remains unmistakable power, and through his lips the lyrics written by his friend Lorre Wyatt echo with a tremendous resonance.

In the contemporary media world where opinion delivered with bravado and volume seems more valued than thoughtful wisdom, where pundits seems to predominate over those who have first-hand knowledge and acumen, it is instructive, indeed empowering to witness a sole voice of articulate rebellion and considered dissent. It is illustrative that a single voice – at whatever age – can still be a clarion.

There are others who take stages across America to poke fun or satire at contemporary events. I’d venture to suggest they rarely get the attention they deserve. Mr. Seeger is testimonial evidence of a life lived well in pursuit of his passion, in honor of his beliefs, and his desire to persuade others to think and share his commitment.

It just made me pause for a moment to compare his voice to the noise of so many others who appear to measure their success by achieving sixteen minutes of fame, as compared to a man who has earned a lifetime of applause for a body of work achieved singing one song at a time.

When companies try to be hip…

This is a job ad – so cutesy, so precious, trying too hard to be avant-garde, TMZ meets real world news.  What happens when competence is no longer a job requirement but  the look, feel and hipness are the primary criteria?  Will these news people know how to write a story or report a crisis?  Would anyone in business, government, law or authority take them seriously?  Is the ability to listen to other people’s podcasts and utilize apps sufficient; what about creating original content?

I’ve edited out the name of the company.  I want to thank “TI” for sharing this.   What else is there to say?

PRODUCER/EDITORS

The TV revolution is upon us  and the new ____ Company is leading the resistance. We’re recruiting a solid team of anti-establishment producer/editors, “preditors”, to collaborate on a groundbreaking morning news/infotainment format unlike anything ever attempted on local TV. Don’t sell us on your solid newsroom experience. We don’t care. Or your exclusive, breaking news coverage. We’ll pass. Or your excellence at writing readable copy for plastic anchorpeople. Not interested.

Sell us on this:

-Your fiery passion to help re-invent the ‘80’s rooted, focus-grouped, yuppie anchors and a news desk, super Doppler ultra weather style

-Your personal relationship with the internet, blogs, video-sharing, iPads, Droids, Blackberries, Blueteeth, Facebook & Twitter, and all things Modern Culture

-You’re in sync with the pulse of the streets, not the PC, Capital “J” journalism world

-You live and breathe content

-You know the difference between “buzzworthy”and “B.S.”

-You know your way around Final Cut Pro and easily embrace new production technologies

-Your greatest communication tool is a keyboard, your writing is “bleeding edge”, and you realize that when it comes to the written word, less is more

-You can survive and prosper in a modern, high brilliance standards “rock ‘n’ roll” culture where your supervisors are fearless and your peers are A-game “imaginators” with the highest of execution standards

-You’re an earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional of any age or sex, with a real-world education, interests that are anything but mainstream, and the ability to translate your bent outlook onto the TV screen

-You “Get It”.

The creatively challenged, old-school TV News types and anyone lost in the ‘80’s should move on to the next “help wanted” ad. If this excites you, talk to us, shoot us your resume, your POV on TV News, links to your FCP editing and writing samples (whether they aired or not) and anything else you think might help sell you as a key member of this exclusive team.