ABC Rains Money

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.

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Paying for News Interviews – is it ethical or just another example of: it’s not personal it’s business?

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.

And we paid money for this — FCC report “cites lack of local news, but has no ideas to fill the gap”

Four hundred seventy eight pages… that’s what it took to conclude that the state of local news in the digital age is in a serious state o’ crisis, with apologies to O’Casey.

This is the latest from the FCC on the sorry state of local news in the digital age. Not only did the FCC prepare the report at taxpayer expense but additionally paid for a commissioned news piece on paidcontent.org FCC Report Cites Lack Of Local News, But Has No Ideas To Fill The Gap.

The findings are not surprising, “There’s a big gap in local news reporting. There are fewer newspaper reporters covering “essential beats” like courts, schools, local affairs. The number of reporters in key places of government has dropped considerably. In New Jersey, for example, the number of statehouse reportesr (sic) dropped from 35 to 15 between 2003 and 2008. In the same time period, California went from 40 to 29; in Texas from 28 to 18; in Georgia, from 14 to 5.
Daily newspapers cut their editorial spending by $1.6 billion per year from 2006 to 2009; staff has shrunk more than 25 percent since 2006…
The report describes local TV as a kind of news wasteland. The stations are generally pumping up the volume of news while reducing staff, and give short shrift to serious topics like education, health care, and government. The report cites a TV news study by the Annenberg School of Communications that found such hard news topics took up a little over one minute in a 30-minute news broadcast. While coverage of city government withers, crime news proliferates. And the report notes the disturbing trend of “pay-for-play” arrangements, as well as the airing of “video press releases” masquerading as news.
Cable news is thriving on a national level but remains stunted at a local level. Only about 25 to 30 percent of the population can watch a local news show on cable.”

The Annenberg Lear Center study which came out in May 2010 Lear Center Report: sports & weather, crime, fluff dominate L.A. TV news makes a frightening case for the diminishing amount of substantive news and the value placed on important stories by news managers.

Look – it’s no secret that consultants have ruined local news – as well as the lack of commitment from station owners, managers, news directors and others of fiscal ilk. News was never profitable and for the vast majority of the 20th century, news was not profitable. In the late 1980s when it became essential to stations that news make money, all semblance of reality was lost. Now shows that proclaim to be news programs are dominated by traffic and weather – because that’s what consultants say the public cares most about… This is the most ephemeral of all substance… the least consequential… and yet it dominates in terms of new devices, maps and computer animations and a significant commitment of the total time of each news program.

Is it any wonder why so few audience surveys find that audiences treat news programs seriously, or make the evening news appointment television night after night, or where loyalty to a program or presenter was once a staple and is now a mater of convenience or happenstance? We’ve polluted the audience by offering features and soft stories as early as 5 or 7 minutes into the programs…. features which once would have been relegated to the end of the news show as a ‘kicker’ but which now appear earlier and earlier each show in order to give the audience something ‘light’ and ‘entertaining’ and ‘enjoyable’ as opposed to something which the editors felt was necessary and important and consequential.

This isn’t just a situation (problem) with local news. Watch many of the network programs and you can see the same symptoms about story selection and placement – an erosive degredation of what news ought to be presented contrasted with what is presented in the guise of news so that the audience will stay tuned.

We wonder why at a time when audiences say they’ve never been better informed thanks to digital content when in fact it appears that they have never known as little or less about so many stories, in spite of digital technology and delivery.

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?

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.

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.

As if we needed another reason to feel older…

The annual survey on incoming freshmen at Beloit College has been released, and as if I wasn’t already feeling older this summer Tuesday morning, this provides ample evidence that the times they are a’changing, again.

The incoming freshmen and women of the class of 2014 have always lived with and been surrounded by technology; they consume games and have been weened on education programs.  They use technology even if they don’t understand how it works.  Enhanced user interfaces have made even the simplest tasks automated.  Emails and cell phones have been constants in their lives.  They are surrounded by information yet they appear to actually consumer very little and perhaps understand even less.  They are satisfied by easy searches and are unaccustomed to challenging the veracity of what they find.   They are schooled in utilizing tools and speak of too kits; they can create sophisticated media, but I am not sure they appreciate its power to do more than entertain.

It seems worthy of longer discussion about how these”kids” are truly different, partly because of technology, partly because of upbringing and education.  Suffice it to say, what they find interesting, important and meaningful as well as how they rely on technology, sometimes in lieu of real experience, will continue to send shock waves throughout the media world.

Excerpts from a story filed by Dinesh Ramde, Associated Press Writer

“MILWAUKEE – For students entering college this fall, e-mail is too slow, phones have never had cords and the computers they played with as kids are now in museums.

The Class of 2014 thinks of Clint Eastwood more as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry urging punks to “go ahead, make my day.” Few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive or have ever worn a wristwatch.

These are among the 75 items on this year’s Beloit College Mindset List. The compilation, released Tuesday, is assembled each year by two officials at this private school of about 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis.

…Remember when Dr. Jack Kevorkian, Dan Quayle or Rodney King were in the news? These kids don’t.

Ever worry about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.? During these students’ lives, Russians and Americans have always been living together in outer space.

… Another Mindset List item reflects a possible shift in Hollywood attitudes. Item No. 12 notes: “Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.”

A number of incoming freshmen  said they partially agreed with the item, noting they were familiar with Eastwood’s work as an actor even if they hadn’t seen his films.

…Jessica Peck, a 17-year-old from Portland, Ore., disagreed with two items on the list — one that says few students know how to write in cursive, and another that suggests this generation seldom if ever uses snail mail.

“Snail mail’s kind of fun. When I have time I like writing letters to friends and family,” she said. “It’s just a bit more personal. And yes, I write in cursive.”

Peck did agree with the item pointing out that most teens have never used telephones with cords.

“Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house,” she said.”

And once we thought getting a telephone call was a big deal…