Worlds & Time

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Commentary Media

So, this is the 100th post in my blog. I wish I could think of something special to say, but I can’t. I’ll try to think of something impressive before I reach 500.

I did get good news yesterday when I visited my lawyer. I’m not allowed to talk about it, but I’m not as worried as I was last week, which is nice.

Also, I’m sitting here watching CNN, and I’ve been shocked by what they’ve been talking about:

  • President Bush’s press conference in Brazil
  • A shooting in Florida, complete with details about the suspect and what went on.
  • An Interview with Louis Farrakhan even though he hasn’t recently published a book

That’s right, they’re talking about real news. How crazy is that?

Does anyone else think that it’s wrong that I’m so surprised to be getting news from CNN?

Actually, I haven’t watched CNN in a while. I switched almost exclusively to MSNBC a few months back because I’ve been really impressed with Keith Olbermann.

My mother took me to see “Goodnight, and Good Luck,” but I didn’t get much out of it at the time because I was more impressed with the Liberace interview than the dark look at the times.

Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think that the biggest difference between now and then is the depth of the coverage. I know that analysis is not itself very deep, and not only that but it’s been said before. Still, it’s becoming so endemic among the news organizations that really it’s the only thing that can be said.

Back when I was at UNM, the College Republicans released a study that found that most college professors were liberal, and they suggested that there should be some sort of way to balance political ideologies. Some positive movement to increase the number of conservative as it were. Not an affirmative action, of course, because that would be wrong. However, they did suggest that perhaps there was some subtle discrimination going on that should be corrected by the University to promote treating groups fairly.

They called a press conference and at least one of the local news stations showed up with a camera crew. The College Republicans had press packets for them, and when they took questions, they did not take questions from any of the students present (both the College Democrats and the UNMGSA showed up, mostly because I overheard the preparations for the press conference and let them know right away).

That night, on the news, they reported exactly what the College Republicans said. There was no response, no qualification. Later, when we finally got our hands on the press kit, it wasn’t that hard to figure out that the study wasn’t scientific.

Granted, we had somewhat personal reasons to question the “study,” but the press should be the press. It wouldn’t have been that difficult critique the report a little before giving it air time.

There’s something to be said for an objective press, but there’s a certain point at which all of these shows have completely divested any and all connections with humanity.

There’s a quality that Keith Olbermann, the Daily Show, and Rush Limbaugh all share, which is that they all retain a human perspective. Olbermann may report on the same things that the CNN anchors, but he can laugh when man marries a llama or be angry when Bush revokes Habeas Corpus. While I don’t agree with him, Rush does the same thing with a different perspective, and he makes a good living doing it. So does Jon Stewart, although he tries to focus on the laughter.

That human perspective is responsible for a surprising amount of depth. Whenever Jon Stewart takes something that Bush said a year ago and plays it next to something he said yesterday and the two statements completely contradict each other, that is something that the mainstream news media should be reporting on as well. Giving us a context and historical framework isn’t just a fun way to lead into entertainment news, it’s part of their job.

I suppose this applies just as much to art as it does to news: without perspective you can’t possibly have depth. Otherwise everything is just a flat surface.

Speaking of surfaces, and this is the only problem that I have with Olbermann, interviews with talking heads don’t give depth to a story. Interviews are only news if the person being interviewed can offer a perspective that the announcer can’t (i.e. a professional opinion on medicine or law) or is part of the news story. A victim whose house has been swept away is a legitimate interview. An author with a new book out really isn’t, especially if he’s neither a professional nor part of the story.

Perspective doesn’t require partisanship. Stewart makes fun of liberals, and so does Colbert. True, not as often as conservatives, but remember that for most of his run Republicans were in control of most of the government. Making fun of the weak isn’t usually that funny.

I don’t offer many solutions. I have enough problems of my own. However, in this situation there are some clear and simple things that need to be done to improve things:

  1. No more constant coverage. I understand if you leap to cover breaking news. However, constant 24 hour coverage of something that isn’t a terrorist attack makes me ignore you. Anna Nichole is dead. It took her three weeks to be buried. All of the coverage that I needed could be summed up in ten minutes after the fact, and in the mean time I wasn’t watching cable news.
  2. Interviews with authors should be handled like the Daily Show handles them. You acknowledge they’re on a book tour and you give them six to ten minutes to hawk their book. Pretending that they have expert opinions that matter is pathetic.
  3. Give us context for every story. There are no new stories, and you are the people that wrote all the history books. Look back through your records and make sure that you cover both what the person is saying now at what they said yesterday. Everyone will be so impressed that you’ll have massive readership/viewership.
  4. Questions are good. Do you remember why Woodward and Bernstein are famous? Hard questions make good reporters, which make good news.
  5. Don’t pretend that you aren’t human. I’m a human, and I like to get my news from other humans. That’s why people liked the Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokow and Dan Rather, and why we’re starting to stop paying attention to cable news. If I wanted to deal with plastic anchors, I’d buy myself a News Anchor Barbie.

I understand that you want ratings (and through ratings, money), but there are a lot of people out there that aren’t being served by what’s on cable news. Sci-Fi, Lifetime, and Bravo have all proven that you can make niche television successful. I’m sure that if you offer enough kids with communications degrees internships you can make a news channel that offers good news and is financially solvent.

Maybe the next time I watch CNN, I won’t be shocked if there’s some semblance of real news on it.

Incidentally, I never found my compass. So when I was out we stopped by Artisan/Santa Fe to buy another one. They had about ten types of bow compasses, but they even looked through the special order catalogues and can’t find one that was like the one that I lost.

The manager of the Santa Fe Store (who’s a great guy) told me that there isn’t as much call for drafting tools because of all the computer design programs and that they might not make them anymore.

What is that about? They don’t make the pens that I use anymore either. I’m beginning to feel paranoid. What item do I use are they going to discontinue next? Rulers? Paper?

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2 Comments:

  • I've long ago given up watching the news for much of the same reasons you've mentioned here.

    As for what they'll stop making, I just hope it isn't toilet paper.

    BigToe

    By Blogger -E, at 1:31 PM  

  • Agreed wholeheartedly. As usual.

    And I can't wait for Keith to come back, either.

    By Anonymous Mumbai, at 2:56 PM  

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