Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cable News is Where America Lives or The Transmogrification (Yes, transmogrification) of the Media

Cable News is Where America Lives or The Transmogrification (Yes, transmogrification) of the Media

Recently a Whitehouse Press Secretary alleged that Cable News is not where America lives. Can I accept that? No. Why not? I can’t accept that because the broadcast media is moving in the same direction as newspapers that are moving in the same direction as the blogosphere. In the blogosphere, amateur news providers, paid on the basis of traffic, are writing to the market. What is the hot topic? Write about that. Generate revenue. Broadcast media, the information provider, looks for the biggest bang for its buck–in a 30 minute or 60 minute broadcast. The only difference is that with broadcast media the network generates its own “metaphorical” blog posts.

As broadcast television is losing viewers, networks are looking for new and exciting ways to attract viewers. They are open to all suggestions except the most important one; the admonition from marketing professors. “Marketing means: ‘find a need and fill it.’” But the marketing people are spending too much time wallowing in advertising. Here is the difference:

If you have an empty glass, the advertising man tries to sell you a glass: an old glass, a new glass, a red glass, a blue glass; a short glass a tall glass, a big glass, a small glass. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss) The marketing people know that if you have an empty glass, you are in need of a tall, cool, refreshing soft drink. In my case, that means a caffeine-free, diet Pepsi. (Ironic: when I’ve reached the age that I really need the sugar and caffeine to keep me going, I’ve started drinking caffeine-free, sugar-free soft drinks.) But I digress. Still, marketing has capitulated to advertising.

Another mistake broadcast media people make is in trying to attract viewers who don’t watch television; an important demographic to be sure. To do this, they cancel programs watched by people who watch television and replace them with shows they hope will appeal to people who don’t watch television. Are ratings going up or down? Down? Duh!

The failure extends, of course to the newsroom. People watch the news because they want the news. The advantage that television has over a newspaper is that we can see more things happening. Instead, however, we listen to too much talk. We don’t need someone to read the news to us. We can do that. Run the teleprompter and let us read the news ourselves. That method will be faster and more informative. Then, to make matters worse, after the anchor announces the story, he cuts to the field reporter who repeats the story, then interviews someone at the scene who confirms the story, and back we go to the anchor desk for a summation of the story. Ho-hum.

Another downfall of broadcast media is the group-think reporting. How often does a person have to sit in front of a television set, with a remote, making the rounds among the evening news broadcasts to realize that broadcasters seem to report the same stories?

Newspapers seem to be suffering from a similar affliction. Let the truth be told. Newspapers are in the advertising business. They sell advertising space to the advertisers and they sell advertisements to the readers. However, because the public won’t buy advertising, the newspapers give the news away as an inducement to buy the advertisements. Such is print journalism.

Newspapers, are also suffering from a drop in viewers (readers). They too have suffered at their own hands. In an attempt to attract readers, (Aside from offering cents-off coupons now provided by almost all newspapers, including, of all journals, The New York Times) newspapers seem to be hiring people with English degrees instead of Journalism degrees. Remember the aphorism: Who, What, When, Where, Why in the first paragraph. Not anymore. Now, instead of journalism we get…uh…prose; prose analogous to the prose of the Bourgeois Gentleman. “Look, Ma, I’m a reporter.” (“Go West, young man”—Horace Greeley)

After the Times strike of 1997, I read an article about the economy of Argentina. The first third of the article challenged the reader to figure out what the article was about. The second third of the article told us. The final third of the article drew no conclusions. Mercifully, two-thirds of the middle column was taken up by a picture of an oil tanker. As with the info-mercials, “oil tankers, not unlike the one in this photo, sit idle off-shore rusting away.” I had hopes that this might be an ad for a product that would help me restore my lawn furniture. Then again, I didn’t have any metal lawn furniture. The Argentinean economy has always been resilient. The Argentinean economy has suffered ups and down. The problem may be that during boom times there is insufficient capital investment—reinvestment in capital improvements. But that is another article.

Next we come to the blogosphere. Again, we are market focused. What is the hot topic? What ranks high in search engines? What is hip, trendy, now, together, happening? I wish I knew. I’d find a place for it in this article and rise to Google nirvana. DesolĂ©. (That’s French. As Andy Capp once said, “It adds polish to me conversation.”) The difference between the blogosphere and newspapers is that newspapers give the illusion of veracity. We assume an editor, or fact checker, checks the article before it is published. Perhaps that’s true. The Times has a public editor to restore confidence in the paper. What The Times needs is an editor. (A white horse is not a horse—Old Chinese Saying.): “Great Caesar’s Ghost. Jimmy Olsen, when I assign a story I want news. Not an essay about what you did on your summer vacation. Now go rewrite this story. And don’t call me, Chief!”

Still, Insofar as I like to see myself as an open-minded person who embraces an analytic approach to reaching conclusions, I indulge myself the luxury of enjoying all the media has to offer. I do read four newspapers a day—five on Sunday. I go on-line to indulge in what the broadcast media has to offer, and I watch cable news. Read: CNN. I do not, however, flatter my pretensions by embracing the luxury of personal opinions based on idol conjecture based on factoids reported by the tabloid media)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Cable Media, (The place where America purportedly doesn’t live.) has the luxury of going more in depth on a topic and providing a more diverse range of opinions. On Cable News TV, the audience can find reporters and commentators who either express and reinforce their own opinions, or express opposite opinions challenging the viewers to think.

Conclusion? Cable news covers a broad range of topics; has the luxury of going in depth on a story; provides photos and videos; offers commentary from reporters across the political spectrum; and offers viewers the opportunity to go on-line and read for themselves what they may choose not to have told to them. Cable News is Where America Lives. Don’t tell me no.—Slim Fairview.

Copyright 2010 Slim Fairview

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