Here’s a story behind the story of Friday’s CBS Evening News report on the state of the media (to see the video, go here and scroll down).
When the producer called, it’s clear they had an angle in mind: citizens’ journalism vs. professional journalism. They asked for stories in which I’d gone up against big media. I told him that’s not the story now. I said the real story is how, with citizens’ help, journalism can and must expand with new ways to gather and share news. I said I’d seen a change in the last year, with professional and amateur journalists coming closer together to this realization.
They came to do the interview and we talked about a lot of the stuff you read here, like this, and this. But they didn’t use that, apart from one line about news not being finished when we print it, which is actually a line about Dan Rather.
Then we changed the setting to shoot the b-roll, the stuff that makes the pros pros in old-style news. Diggnation doesn’t have no stinking b-roll.
We stood in a colleague’s office and, with my laptop in hand, they asked me what I wrote about. I listed a bunch of posts, including this one, where I take Ted Koppel and Aaron Brown to task and I said that.
That ended up in the finished piece: me v. the big guys, it seemed. That fit the story they wanted to do, the one they started with: citizens v. professionals.
And the correspondent asked whether I got mad at the big-media folks with whom I so recently worked. I mocked the question and gave him a look you can’t see as I said, no, I merely get disappointed sometimes.
That, too ended up in the finished piece. That, too, fit the story they wanted to do rather than the one they got from me.
Now, of course, this happens all the time. This is what sours sources on the news. It’s no surprise to me. It’s no big deal, either. I’ve seen the sausage made. But I’ll say what I said to that correspondent: It disappoints me. I don’t care if they used more or different quotes from me. But I care about getting a story that’s not as shallow as videotape.
But evening news is the shallowest of news: Give us 22 minutes and we can’t possibly give you the world. And so this made me wonder what the proper role of the evening news should be in a new media world. Now I know that some will argue that the evening news still has a huge audience, compared with other individual outlets, and so why rock that boat. But that audience is getting ever-smaller and ever-older and the news universe around it is only exploding.
So what to do? There was a time when I said that CBS News should be sold. The Murrowites would burn me at the stake, but I could also argue that we just don’t need three shallow evening newscasts and it’s OK to kill one. And I could argue that the evening news should be a summary of other news: The Week magazine as a daily TV show telling me what the rest of the world is saying.
But now that CBS and my long-lost colleague Larry Kramer have embarked on their “cable bypass” strategy to make the web the news channel they never had, I think the CBS Evening News should become value-added to the web: It summarizes and promotes and follows the bigger stories that are online. The evening news stories don’t need to be simplistic, obvious, confrontational, condescending; they can be smarter. But they do need to be shallow, for there’s only so much you can say in 2:30. Yet that becomes more forgivable when their reason to exist shifts to being a gateway to the news.
So take a story like the state of the media. They can still go do their interviews, but they can put those interviews online and let us see — and remix — them. They can pose their question about a story and give us the tools to help report that story. They can follow the story as it grows and improves online. And from a business perspective, they can drive people to the future: to online. If newspapers must do that, then so must TV. Yes, the revenue isn’t there yet, but the audience is and the revenue will catch up when advertisers do.
Or they can keep making simplistic stories like the one about the state of the media that inspired this post. The real story about the state of the media isn’t what CBS aired, but what it didn’t air: The story of how broadcast TV without the web and without the public’s help there will continue to be shallow and shrinking and outmoded. The irony is that CBS News’ story about the state of the media is the best illustration of the state of old media.
: LATER: Andrew Tyndall, who watches TV news for a living, takes me a bit to task in the comments and I reply.