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.

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Lying with impunity – rage at the liars and frustration at being rendered helpless

Let’s begin with a disclosure.  I have told both lies of convenience and whoppers.  So perhaps a column on lying is an ambitious undertaking for me, nonetheless…

This week I flew from Dallas to San Francisco on Skywest (a partner of United Airlines).  The flight was more than four hours late due to a mechanical problem and that delay would force me to miss the last airporter bus to my final destination.  The airline’s agent in Dallas was sympathetic, and since the delay was caused by the airline he offered me a free taxi or shuttle ride home.  I asked how I could prove his offer when I arrived in San Francisco, and he proceeded to ostensibly type his promise into my passenger record.  He seemed sincere, genuine and I watched him type for a few moments.  When done he smiled and said, it was “all in the record”.

When I landed I asked the gate agent for the promised voucher.  She pulled up my ticket record, and I asked if she would print it for me.  She quickly left for her supervisor still in the jet way.  “KH” returned, looked at the computer and proceeded to type for more than a minute.  Then he too smiled but said, “it says no amenities offered in San Francisco.”  He spoke with no hesitation.  He added with a grin (perhaps of guile), “would I like to see the record?”

“Hardly necessary,” I replied.

So who lied?  One of these employees did lie.  Was it the helpful gentleman in Dallas who appeared to be sincere in appreciating my difficulty?  Or the harried employee in San Francisco, who at 2a appeared more interested in saving the airline any further expense or encumbrance as well as in sending me away.  I felt rage – not for the voucher, but for the lie.

Why’s this a media column?  Because so many readers, listeners, viewers feel the same helpless rage when consuming their media.  There are people who absolutely rage at talk radio and TV personalities who espouse views that are contradictory to everything they hold dear.  They believe these individuals are lying, or at least misrepresenting the facts.  Just hearing the news and information shaped in a way counter or contrary to their beliefs is enough to send them into fits of anger.

Lying or misrepresentations or bending facts to suit our particular needs of the moment are now so easy, and you just can’t quite catch the liar.  You believe, even know, you are being lied to, but you don’t always know who is responsible; you can’t catch them, you can’t make them apologize, and that’s where the anger begins and boils.

Skywest’s behavior was despicable.  But they got away with lying.  With impunity.

And by extension, is this also why so many news consumers stifle their anger and turn away from media, frustrated by what they hear and how they think it is mauled by truth-benders?  It isn’t just that stories are not credible as much as the misrepresentations send us into rage?  The rage is borne of disbelief, incredulity, as well as the sense that some one in the food chain has intentionally altered the facts and that leaves us helpless.

Good Sex or just a Tawdry Affair? The consequences of broadcasting and political activism sharing a bed

Do audiences appreciate this new symbiotic relationship between news and bias, news and punditry and opinion? Is this a natural growth progression of a huge network’s business covering the news, and how is it possible that this does not cross journalist lines of independence when its social media component strives to become a politically charged entity, something that actively promotes further national division and societal discord?

Fox Nation, another expansion of the powerful FOX brand, promotes itself as a site where all opinions are welcome, although the predominant voices seem to be believers in a conservative political philosophy punctuated by anti-administration diatribe, fear mongering and occasional bigotry.   This is social media, and one does not have to listen long to Fox Radio to hear promotions for this affinity site — listen to us and if you believe in what you’re hearing, you’ll want to join the discussion at Fox Nation.

But the question is when does fair and balanced news reporting become the bulwark of a political affinity group?  It’s not whether this is good, or ethical under some sort of academic standard alone, but is the audience being served (happily) or misused?

It is an honest question for debate for it is changing the way people in this country see, listen, hear and relate to their news. Not so many years ago the major networks were all pretty much the same – bland and apolitical. Owners under the rules of the FCC stuck to rules governing fairness, standards and practices. That’s long over.

Do audiences appreciate this new symbiotic relationship between news and bias, news and punditry and opinion? Is this a natural growth progression of a huge network’s business covering the news, and how is it possible that this does not cross journalist lines of independence when its social media component strives to become a politically charged entity, something that actively promotes further national division and societal discord?

Just as the cablers seem to be in a race to carve out their space along the political spectrum, FOX representing talk-radio-right and MSNBC securing its place as talk-radio-left, there seems to be a new phenomenon of converting audiences into political armies.  Fox Radio is now heard soliciting its listeners to join the “Fox Nation” in order to be a more effective force for change.

What’s different is the blurred line between reporting the news, especially if it purports regularly and routinely to be the epitome of fair and balanced as its brand, but then uses those same broadcasts to appeal directly and solely to a specific political leaning.  It seems expectable that those who register will be parsed and shared with campaigns and PACs, and there are few, if any, limits to how those individuals will be culled and contacted in the environment of social media.

Is there a line and has it been crossed?  Should a national news voice use its power to effect political change in the contemporary environment, and if so, does it need to be more clearly disclosed?  Or is it obvious?

Is it too much for a program host to attend a political rally? Or tell listeners specifically where a rally is planned? Sean Hannity has done both even encouraging his audience to attend if they share his political beliefs.  But is his show even news or is it a talk show about contemporary events? And if it is just that, then he is not subject to the long-established rules guiding journalists and journalism?

There are many who believe FOX News presenters share a conservative bias.  There are even sites which are hyper-critical of Fox News, notably Media Matters which catalogues what it perceives to be daily examples of misreporting and misinformation. In fairness to Fox News and its president Roger Ailes, FOX does draw a line between its news presenters and talk show personalities.  For instance, on election nights the network’s most prominent show hosts, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, are not utilized as anchors but rather as commentators separating fact from opinion.  It may be a thin line, but it is a line that is crossed most notably by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC who is offered to the audiences doing both dispensing news and commentary within the same program.

Fox News self-promotes itself as the “new media” and seeks to differentiate itself from all the other networks, decrying them as “mainstream” and old-fashioned, horribly out of touch with their audiences who purportedly are crying out for better reportage. FOX News is not alone; each night John Stewart and Steven Colbert do much the same – making fun of the traditional models in satire and skits.

FOX News is a brilliant, contemporary business which may understand audiences better than any of its competitors.  It has cast off the traditional model of informing and instead has grasped the higher levels of communication theory, specifically to persuade audiences to think as it does and even, at the highest level, to motivate audiences to think that they had the ideas originally.

There is an open question: when does mixing news reporting with social media cross a line of independence, when does reporting with any bias become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it OK for established news casts? What about for an organization without a formal news organization, for instance Google, which is offering corporate customers the opportunity to advertise on programs specifically created about their business and its audience appeal? Is that news? Is that propaganda? And once you start producing custom content for a specific purpose, business or government, when does it end, and how will the audience recognize the difference?  When does currying to an audience go too far?

The issue is – if that happens, then they will cover only news that interests their audience, or that their audience already believes in?  What happens to other  viewpoints and under-served communities? Will those voices be hear or be subjected to ridicule? Is that a danger today with FOX Nation – where it says all opinions are welcomed… but are they?

The question is simply this — other than in paid and disclosed advertising, should the cable airwaves or the public channels be used to actively promote a political party or belief? Does the audience care, should they? Should we care on their behalf? On that last question alone I believe the answer is an absolute Yes!

Civic Journalism a la francais

Video of a forced eviction of an African immigrant from a makeshift tent camp near Paris is causing alarm and stirring debate among politicians in France.  The video was shot on July 21 by an observer from a group called Right to Housing and has aired on CNN as well as the French cable news site France24. It clearly shows police carrying a pregnant woman using what many critics say is excessive force, but beyond that what makes it noteworthy is that the video has been screened online more than 300,000 times!

Under laws in 3 states here recording video of police in action is now illegal Use a Camera Go to Jail. It is interesting to note that state of alarm generated by these pictures in France and one cannot help but think of other US-based incidents, such as Rodney King in Los Angeles, stories that would never have come to the public’s attention had it not been for private citizens having the courage to capture video of police transgressions.

It fuels the debate over the public’s right to monitor their public servants; cameras in the hands of civic journalists has long been a global occurence whether in France or Nepal or Iran, and efforts by law enforcement and politicians here to thwart this are at odds with a free and open society.

“Stupid is as Stupid does”

A new study about the use of media by college students and young graduates, those known as Generation Z, raises serious concerns about how little they know, how devoid of curiosity they appear to be, and how willing they are to settle for single-sourced information. It purports to have us believe that young people read very little, what they do read they accept unquestionably with little skepticism or doubt, and that when they search online the most superficial results happily suffice.

If they are in fact as under-informed and happy in their apparent ignorance, then the future is truly in play.  If they demand so little and are so easily pleased, then it is just-as-likely to be true that they will never demand more from the media they consume or rely on to make key decisions.

The New York Times So-Called ‘Digital Natives’ Not Media Savvy, New Study Shows reports the study by Northwestern University found “that college students have a decided lack of Web savvy, especially when it comes to search engines and the ability to determine the credibility of search results. Apparently, the students favor search engine rankings above all other factors. The only thing that matters is that something is the top search result, not that it’s legit.”

The study reports 25% students willingly accept the first site that appeared in search. Only 10% felt it was necessary to credit the source of their information or the credentials, and apparently none actually sought to verify that information independently. Additionally Google trumps Yahoo and both surpass Wikipedia in trust.

And there is little knowledge of even the most fundamental aspects of web management; again, from the New York Times, ” “Some students even thought that a .org domain name meant a site was inherently trustworthy – they weren’t aware that the .org extension can be freely registered just like .com.”

The Northwestern study concludes with this last graph, “While some have made overarching assumptions about young people’s universal savvy with digital media due to their lifelong exposure to them, as our study suggests, empirical evidence does not necessarily support this position. As our findings show, students are not always turning to the most relevant cues to determine the credibility of online content…”

The need for an informed citizenry, for a connected and discerning electorate, for an educated elite in business and the public sector demands individuals who are in fact trained, schooled and very savvy.

If in fact they are not curious, not inclined to push their knowledge and awareness, then in fact they are the epitome of “Stupid is as stupid does” and Forrest Gump was never so right.

A Congressman’s Speech Goes Viral! Imagine media coverage of compelling national debate and dialogue? If only…

Let’s face it, congressional speeches rank pretty low on the media’s food chart of what New York based executives think American audiences care about.  While there is still beat coverage on Capitol Hill, few speeches seem to make it on network radio or TV, and except for CSPAN, there is precious little video coverage of what’s said in the well of the House and Senate. What little is said is reduced to snippets of sound and not substantive blocks or speeches.

That’s what makes Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) Thursday remarks about funding medical coverage for first responders to 9/11 all the more surprising.  His passionate speech, some will call it angry and emotional, was aired on both morning and evening newscasts Friday.  ABC’s World News Tonight treated it as a stand alone sound bite while NBC Nightly News incorporated it into a larger story.  But 48 hours after his remarks, by midday Saturday, the speech was watched almost 500,000 times on You Tube alone.

This poses the question – was it because he was emotional or did it merely tap the emotional third rail represented by 9/11?  Was that passion unusual for the House?  Online coverage Congressman Anthony Weiner gets loud, calls out GOP for 9/11 health bill made reference to Weiner as a modern day Mr. Smith, a modern day James Stewart, the incarnate member of the Congress, imbued with passion and commitment and oratory.

From my perspective I wonder whether there is a greater-than-imagined appetite for stirring oratory?  I wonder if the American media might steal a page from British coverage of Parliament, for instance Prime Minister’s Question Time,  where there has always been greater attention paid to the spoken word and disagreement.

No doubt the overwhelming amount of live coverage from Congress, as well as state houses and local elected offices and boards, is dismal – stiff, formal, impersonal and quite often less than articulate. But it it refreshing to see and hear compelling speeches. And judging from the response to Representative Weiner, networks ought to take note that the public does feel well-served when they can hear and see for themselves.

On the face of this it is a risk of producing “boring” TV. Or is it?

Is BP Buying Off Media Coverage?

Is coverage of the gulf oil spill declining, especially from local TV? And if so, why?  And if so, is there a reason to follow the money which might logically  lead to the BP advertising juggernaut?

In the days and weeks immediately following the oil spill there was a gush of coverage on both network and local TV.  Regional and national reporters crisscrossed from Louisiana to Florida.  Today, 100 days since the disaster, the urgency except for  spill-impacted areas, has naturally diminished.  But is that due to an editorial decision or is it due to the huge buy of advertising time by BP?

This is my question… is there any relationship between BP’s advertising buy and the decision by stations to turn down the spotlight’s glare?  These are economic tough times in the ad world.  On local stations where the community’s automotive dealers were once counted on the purchase up to 30% of the local advertising space, and where nothing else has become a one-for-one replacement for the absence of such dealer ads, BP has obviously found a welcomed reception for its branded ad campaign about what it’s doing to repair the damage and sustain the environment.  Was there a quid pro quo?  Was there a condition, or a wink between the station and the media buyer that stipulated the news department scale back its oil spill coverage?  In exchange for a media buy was there a request, a demand for kinder editorial treatment?

I am not suggesting stations are choosing not to cover the spill but have they scaled back from two or three stories a night to a single story, often not even the lead story?  Is this coincident?  Or is the story fading on its own merit?  That is, except for efforts at sea to cap the well, there really isn’t much that seems substantively different from stories produced a week, two weeks or even three weeks ago.  Is this an editorial decision that with fewer new stories there is less to report, less reason to invest precious air time, or is there something more sinister at play?

We know that TV has limited commitment to many stories.  TV media hs been criticized for having the attention span of a small child.  And as a colleague has critically said about complicated stories, “TV does not handle complex carbohydrates well.”  And perhaps it is simply a case that audiences appear satiated on the spill story; perhaps minute by minute ratings provide evidence that many audiences have ‘tuned out’ from the story and therefore, with less interest comes decreased demand and fewer stories.

But is there something more?  I don’t know.  I haven’t access to such proprietary information on either side.  I am just wondering if any one has information to prove whether this is real, coincident, or unfounded.