‘I’ll be right back’
: Johnny Carson has died at age 79.
Once, many years ago, while I was a TV critic, I happened to be on a plane with Lucille Ball. She was in first class, of course; I was in business. I wouldn’t have presumed to bother her but I sent her a note via a stewardess. I said that I believed she and Johnny Carson had given my parents’ generation their sense of humor and comic timing. My mother (this will probably be a surprise to her) treated punchlines like Lucy; my father and his friends told jokes like Johnny.
Carson represented more. He was, of course, the original Jon Stewart, who showed so much of news to be what it was: a joke. He and other, edgier comics of the day made comedy relevant.
He was the best barometer of trends. By the time Johnny did it, it took over America. When I was a kid, I wanted a Nehru jacket (shhh… I can hear you snickering… be nice) and my parents would let me — until Johnny wore one. But when Johnny wore it, that meant it was no longer cool; the meme had gone mainstream.
Carson also represented the golden age of America’s shared experience in media. That era lasted about three decades, from the late ’50s to the late ’80s, when the three networks turned most cities into one-newspaper towns and we all watched the same thing. I don’t regret that era dying; it means we now have more choice and choice equals control. But it was a unique time in our culture, when popular culture became a common platform, a common touchstone for Americans. We all got Johnny’s jokes. [via Lost Remote]
: Michael Ventre says at MSNBC.com: “The day that television died was May 22, 1992. The day it was buried was today.” Well, that prose is a bit toooo purple. But then he signs off with a joke from Johnny:
Doesn’t add up
: Reporters and editors need more training in how to handle numbers.
Dan Okrent has a good column on the topic today. He says it is a refreshingly equal-opportunity sin; readers from left and right complain about numbers.
On my ride back from Boston yesterday, Joe Trippi took me through the numbers for the last election in a way I hadn’t heard before. It was said that the youth didn’t come out — that was the accepted wisdom starting on election night because of a flawed interpretation of the numbers and, unfortunately, it sticks. I would give you Joe’s analysis but I didn’t take notes and don’t want to get it wrong. The truth is, he said, that younger and older voters came out while voting by those in the middle ages declined. That misinterpretation spread by media will affect political strategy and as a result public policy. It’s not a small mistake.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Shepard, the editor-in-chief of Business Week and soon to be the head of CUNY’s new journalism school, and he said — understandably, considring the magazine he edits — that reporters are notoriously bad at numbers and need education in stats.
Whether on a paper or via weblogs, it would also be great to have people who are trained in stats available to fix or at least question the flawed analyses that turn into accepted wisdom.
Yes, it will be on the final
: Tim Blair’s attitudinal fisking [sorry Mr. Strunk, sorry Mr. White for that phrasing] of a Washington Post report from Iraq should be required reading in journalism schools. The Post reporter, Jackie Spinner, sets out to tell how American soldiers turned one Iraqi against America. But Blair shreds the assumption and attitude in her writing by using her own reporting to show just how absurd her view is. It is an object lesson in the bias of a single story and the need to give the public facts — including the reporter’s perspective — to let them judge for themselves.
While I was in Boston, I had the pleasure of meeting with David Fanning, exec producer of Frontline, and a few of his valued producers and editors to brainstorm about some of the wonderful things Frontline is doing and can do online for the show… and for journalism (in 1995, Fanning put complete interviews online; at Frontline World, Berkeley students are citizen journalists creating stories for the web and for the show). David told me about a segment he produced on the first show he made at WGBH, taking a single story and retelling it through a few perspectives. That’s what everyone does with the news. We need to help them do that and then compare and contrast.
That Post reporter, Spinner, did something valuable: She went into the streets of Baghdad and talked to one person and got quotes about his experience. At the Harvard confab, Jill Abramson of the NY Times and Rick Kaplan of MSNBC emphasized the value their large organizations bring to the world by supporting expensive — and dangerous — reporting in places like Iraq. I couldn’t agree more. That is all the more reason why the full extent and full value of that reporting should be made available to the readers (though only a few) who would like to dig down deeper and look through a different side of the prism — and add facts and questions and viewpoints.
Yes, this will look messy compared with the well-packaged, centralized marketplaces of news we have now. Welcome to the remix society. Tim Blair remixes Jackie Spinner: same quotes, different perspective, different stories. Thanks, Prof. Blair.
[And thanks, Glenn, for the link]
: Bob Wright of GE says the media is fast-moving. David Card says hooey.
: In his story about FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s resignation in the Philly Inquirer, Daniel Rubin quotes my post. Of course, I like that — as an egotist and traffic slut (love it when they spell the URL right), as a blogger (sing along: r-e-s-p-e-c-t), and as a reporter (more sources of more viewpoints and quotable quotes). So thanks, Daniel. But at the same time, this reminds us that whatever we say on our blog we say in public and it not only lasts forever online and in Google’s cache but it also can end up in print. (I’m glad that for once, I had no typos.)