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.

Getting past obvious answers – Trump on Today

Donald Trump in his fledgling try for the White House in 2012 is offering an astounding number of bromides and platitudes, braggadocio and bombast in his wave of TV interviews from O’Reilly (FOX) to Today (NBC). From the old saw of the birther’s claim that the president lacks his US birth certificate to matters of state Mr. Trump seems well prepared to talk over any and all other questions while repeatedly repeating all his preconceived message points. He knows how to talk, and talk, and talk.

In response to a question of what the President (Obama) has done well, Trump replied “he got elected.”
In response to the lack of a national budget Trump assured listeners it was due entirely to “a lack of leadership” that wouldn’t be the case if he was sitting in the oval office.
In response to a question on foreign policy he expounded that the “United States isn’t respected” any longer by the rest of the world.

In fairness questions that were posited to how he would change this if elected but they were parried and thwarted and never answered. The ‘how” of what would be different is often the most important question — not the if or the dreams or desires for change, but rather the execution, the how. Mr. Trump offered nothing to that debate or discourse.

Taking just the question of how the rest of the world may see us… after years of financially and militarily supporting dictatorial regimes all to assure the stable supply of crude oil to fill our gas-guzzling economy, or the nature of avaricious conduct in pursuit of minerals and raw materials to satiate our economic demands at the cost of local economies and indigenous people… these are the core issues of why we’re not liked, not respected. Having the biggest stick, the greater swagger, the most shiny boots on the ground isn’t sufficient to master world respect, much less domination. Assuring audiences this would all ‘be changed’ once he gets to the White House seems insufficient and unrealistic.

The media – all of us who are in charge of the microphone – better start asking the ‘how’ as the 2012 campaign gets underway. There’s likely to be a lot of noise in the coming months – but rather than just close our ears we could decide to have greater impact by thinking about and demanding answers to the real questions. Let’s start with ‘how’?

And who says there are no good jobs in journalism?

This has appeared in many places…. but it just cries out to be reprinted in its entirety.

“We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

Send questions, or a resume/cover letter/links to clips to my email address below. If you already have your dream job, please pass this along to someone whose skills you covet. Thanks.

Matthew Doig
Sarasota Herald-Tribune”

Was the question rhetorical?

Just after the carnage in Tucson the airwaves, especially cable and talk radio, seemed filled with hand-wringing and calls for toning down the vitriol in political debate.

There appeared to be a chorus proclaiming a need to return to civility.

In the last 24 hours there has been a turn about – with one network in particular proclaiming that since there is no evidence that harsh words, intemperate thought and anger were at cause for the shootings, then they should not be held responsible nor subject to criticism.

I wonder – if things are so good across this country’s political spectrum, is there is no longer a need for civility?
How did things change so quickly? Did we forget already that regardless of the craziness of the shooter in Tucson, perhaps we all might do better with moderation in thought, anger and speech?

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?

The war we don’t hear (much) about

Arguably the war in Afghanistan drones on into its ninth year with continuing Draconian consequences including the loss of lives (US & Coalition troops and Afghan citizens), a negative effect on US interests and reputation abroad and devastating impact on our national budget, among others. And yet, no one (including, especially the media) seems to pay much attention.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported that just 4% of news coverage this year focused on the war and that’s down from the year before when it was a whopping 5%.  According to Afghan War Just a Slice of US Coverage this week, the war just does not merit much editorial interest or coverage.  Is that because the media finds the war uninteresting?  Difficult to cover?  Or is it the impression and/or understanding that the audience doesn’t much care for the story, so why cover something distasteful that’s apt to turn viewers off?  Or, all of the above?

Thinking back to Vietnam when there were thousands of reporters from all over the world covering that war, daily papers and multiple wire services were filled with incisive and comprehensive coverage. Nightly newscasts featured competitive stories. Names like Saigon, Da Nang, Hue, Cam Ranh Bay, Pleiku and so many others were widely known – heard frequently in coverage and by datelines – and discussed. But what of names, places and coverage from Afghanistan? After Kabul what names do come to mind? And could many (any) of us find them on a map?

Whose fault is that? Is it the media? There are fewer than a handful of reporters in country.  Is that because of diminished interest, reduced news budgets? The difficulty (near impossibility) of getting around without the assistance and escort of the US or coalition military? All of the above? But wouldn’t we be better served by more coverage – not just that which is approved by US military and diplomatic handlers?

From the Times’ story, “The low levels of coverage reflect the limitations on news-gathering budgets and, some say, low levels of interest in the war among the public. About a quarter of Americans follow news about Afghanistan closely, according to recent surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

“Inside the United States, you’ve got audiences that are beginning to suffer from war fatigue,” said Tony Maddox, who oversees international coverage for CNN.”

Competition among journalists in Vietnam as well as the wider range of published, conflicting and divergent viewpoints did contribute to the divisive nature of that war as well as to its ultimate peace.

The current crop of Afghan stories – according to what was published in the Times – seems to focus on whether the war is in fact winnable? A fair question – an obvious one at the end of the year and prior to the upcoming new Congress and State of the Union.

But – from a media standpoint – and a critical one – how is it that a war which is sucking resources at an appalling rate only merits 4% of the annual news coverage to begin with? Incidentally this isn’t just the fault of the media, for whatever our many sins might be, we have also become victims of the business culture which seeks to please audiences by giving them news they want, news they will be entertained by – not necessarily the news they need to make sober, serious and informed decisions. Afghan news is deemed to be unpopular unpleasant – it’s certainly foreign – and to be discriminatory or bigoted it is about people and a country we don’t generally think very highly of! There, I said it. From a media management standpoint – though they may not want to admit it – if honest they’d say their audiences don’t understand these people – don’t relate to these people – and don’t believe that our being in country is going to make much of (if any) reasonable difference. We’re marking time until the body county, blood-letting and money loss is so unsupportable that we’ll skulk out having declared a win, proudly asserting we had established a toe hold for democracy and proclaiming a peace. Whatever the hell that will look like.

The real question is this – from a media standpoint – 4%. Is that the best we can do? Is that a measure of how little we really care – and its failing Y2Y.

So as we enter 2011 let’s watch for stories with more bang-bang than politics. And stories about Presidential visits – 3 hours at an US air base – instead of a texture piece on the complexities of the Afghan government. And let’s not minimize the panache of visiting news anchors – Beauties in Bush Jackets – who visit from time to time to do their own ‘in-depth’ personal reporting conducted from the safety of US military escorts. This isn’t reporting. This is white wash. We deserve better… we don’t want to pay for it, we don’t want to be bothered by tough reporting and serious questions… and so instead we wait for Beltway pontificators to fill in what we don’t get from the field — offering platitudes and opinion instead of reportage.  It is however a poor alternative for the real thing.

Comparisons of Stewart to Murrow & Cronkite are misplaced

Today’s New York Times story portraying comedian Jon Stewart’s advocacy role in support of 9/11 responders to that of CBS news icons Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite seem out of proportion to history, to journalism and to impact.
Mr. Stewart – though both popular and persuasive – does not merit comparison for his remarks on a single show or position compared to the risks that Murrow for instance took when he spoke out against Senator Joseph McCarthy or the Army hearings; nor that of Cronkite when he editorialized about the long-term future of the Vietnam war. Stewart – to his credit – did speak out using his platform and popularity to ridicule what he felt was happening in Congress, but in doing so he did not risk nor face the same consequences as Murrow or Cronkite.
In our rush to make comparisons to the past – all of us – journalists, professors, every one must be more careful to make more apt, thoughtful comparisons than what is offered today by both the Times and a quote from a professor of popular TV culture at Syracuse.

Is doing enough actually enough?

Joshua-Michéle Ross who writes a nifty column Opposable Planets on social media has written Be Committed but Not Attached offering a phrase “be committed to the work that you do, the purpose you have, the intentions and integrity of your actions. Don’t be too attached to the results.”

I’ve been pondering this for the last few days.

Applied to the work: media – especially the challenged world of multimedia communications today – is just being committed enough? In times of tumult – of change – of business challenges while one cannot live daily on the edge, doesn’t one have to be committed to results? Is there any other way that is as rewarding?

20% of the audience is gone in the first 10 seconds

20% of the audience clicks OFF a video in the first 10 seconds; 40% is gone at 1 minute and 60% has tuned out at the minute thirty mark.
Distressing?
I think this is a near fatal blow in recognizing audiences don’t even give many programs a chance before they’re clicked off. For corporate clients… for news producers… for any one who produces content this is a sad set of numbers produced by Benchmarking Viewer Abandonment in Online Video which “looked at how viewers watched and ultimately abandoned over 40 million unique video clips, which, in aggregate, have received nearly 7 billion views.”

Blink taught us people make judgments about one another in the first 3 seconds of a conversation, but even at 10 seconds this study gives me little reason for optimism. What does this say for our concentrations? What does this say for our quick-trigger response about what interests us, or what we want to give time to, invest ourselves in?
For clients who produce videos in the hope of delivering messages this will be positively frightening. For my students who flit about from story to story with little regard for depth or concentration, this just gives weight to their argument that if a piece isn’t interesting (quickly) they just wont watch it at all.

10 seconds is hardly justification for ignorance.