Posts about tv

Star news

I can’t help shaking my head at the hiring of Katie Couric to anchor the CBS Evening News. All the talk about getting rid of the oracular voice of news is meaningless. They simply replaced the goofy if stern-faced oracle with the perky and still-cute oracle. And the truth is, it’s not about the voice at all. It’s about the name. It’s about celebrity. This is halfway to hiring George Clooney to read the news (‘I may not be a journalist, but I played one in a theater near you’). They can’t even argue that this is the first woman to anchor the news solo because, thanks to tragedy, that’s what you have on ABC right now.

Mind you, I have no great beef with Couric. I think she and Today got flufflier and fluffier (so much so that my wife switched us, unilaterally, to ABC for news). I think that CBS is merely challenged in the personnel department. They lose Howard Stern and then hire David Lee Roth — which any sane person could have told them wouldn’t work — and now they have him reading the news every day (hey, why not save about $50 million and just have him read the telepromoter every night?). They get rid of Dan Rather and then don’t whom to hire and then hire the biggest name they could grab. If I were Les Moonves, I wouldn’t quit my day job and go into human resources.

What’s saddest about this is that it reveals no vision for the news. The ballsy news exec would have said it was time to break away from the pack and invent the news show for the news age: to perform the equivalent task to what Alan Rusbridger et al are trying to do at The Guardian, moving past paper. TV News needs to move past TV. Toward the end of his tenure, I got to know former CBS News President Andrew Heyward and I saw in him a glimmer of the courage needed to reject the old and create the new. I have no idea what he would have done with the CBS Evening News but I’d have been curious to see how he tried to eliminate the oracle and find a new, human voice for news.

Ah, you’ll say, but isn’t that what they did by hiring Couric? They hired a human voice. Well, yes, she’s more human than Rather. But she’s still a voice manufactured by the TV machine. We don’t really know her any more than we know any other product of that machine. She’s there simply because she’s a celebrity, a news star. And what that tells me is that they still think the news is defined by the person who reads it. They think that’s what matters more to us than the news itself. They think they can keep this old form of lite news — give us 22 minutes and we won’t give you much — and make it liter and it will survive. What they should have done, instead, was blow up the old assumptions. But they didn’t. They just spent a lot of money on them.

: Just phoned into NPR’s On Topic about this very topic with Howard Rosenberg, ex-LA Times and now j-school prof; Jane Clayson, ex CBS morning host; Michael Wolfe of Vanity Fair; and David Blum of the NY Sun. The podcast will be up later.

: LATER: Judging from the comments, I clearly left out an important factor: People like Katie Couric. They really like her.

And I do mean that’s an important factor. Earlier anchors were not likeable and were not meant to be. They were supposed to be trusted, right?

Likeability is a new attribute of journalism.

: LATER YET: Give the new CBS News credit: Its blog quotes even criticism of the Katie crowning.

Reefer madness

We had Weekend Good Morning, America on (because my wife is boycotting NBC News until Katie Couric leaves) and it was an incredible attempt at old-fartism. They interviewed the organizer of a rave party that turned tragic and, after saying that there were virtually no drugs there, they show a scene from a generic rave party and list all the drugs that are usually there. It made no sense. They then tease a story about the “new trend” in high-school kids having fight parties. Yes, that’s sweeping the nation along with raves and meth and mary jane. Most shocking, they pitch a story about the amazing trend in single women buying houses on their own even before they’ve found “Mr. Right.” Who turned the Wayback Machine to 1967? And they say you need professionals to turn out this claptrap? Yes, you’d have to pay me to do this.

Geek Martha

Alex Albrecht, costar of Diggnation, has just premiered his new cooking show for geeks with the greatest title alive: Ctrl+Alt+Chicken (download it there or watch it, free, via iTunes).

It’s a hoot and a half. He and his girlfriend (I think), Heather Stewart, try to make chicken cordon bleu but fail spectacularly. It ends up burned on the outside and perilously raw on the inside. But it’s still fun watching them and, if you care, you do get the recipe. The show goes just a touch over the top when actors must act in a sketch moment near the start. It’s best when they’re just having fun in the kitchen and, in the great tradition of the Galloping Gourmet before he found the wagon, they’re getting sloshed on wine. The couple thing works. So does the honesty. As they’re melting fat and more fat in a pot and they get rather disgusted at this, Alex says in a cooking show, “This is why people don’t cook. Becuase you look at it while it’s cooking and you don’t want to eat it.” Heather says, “It takes forever and my pizza would have already been here.” They’re planning an episode when they just eat the cold pizza. Now that is cooking for geeks.

Note well that this isn’t just people sitting and talking to the camera. They’re actually doing something. They’re entertaining. They made a show. And they showed the world. They did it without studios or executives or networks. Welcome to the future of TV. I like it.

Vast wasteland, my ass

Well so much for those turn-off-the-tv festivals of media snobbery. The New York Times reports that two University of Chicago economists find that TV is not bad for kids.

Most studies that find negative effects from television compare groups of children who watch television to those who do not, even though the economic situations of the two groups are in all likelihood very different, Mr. Gentzkow said. The new study, however, was based on what the authors call a “natural experiment” that resulted from the way television was introduced in the United States in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when some cities got TV service five years ahead of others.

Data from cities where preschoolers were exposed to the new technology, and data from cities where they were not, was correlated with test scores from about 300,000 students nationwide in 1965, as collected in the Coleman Report, a survey done under the Civil Rights Act. The study also looked at test scores from pre- and post-TV age groups within cities.

The result showed “very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage” in test scores for children who grew up watching TV early on, compared to those who did not, said Mr. Shapiro.

Media are good.

Maher, diluted

Tonight’s panel on Bill Maher’s return to HBO is the weakest ever: Helen Thomas in the center square?? Eddie Griffin blathers. And there’s Daniel Senor, official spokesman in Iraq. What, Paris Hilton was busy?

Guns don’t hurt people, vice presidents do

Just watched Good Morning America on sharpshooter Cheney. The young reporter from Corpus Cristi who broke the tale, Kathryn Garcia, is sure to get a TV offer. She was surprisingly self-assured. But then, I wonder whether everyone is getting more comfortable before cameras. Being on TV just isn’t a big deal anymore. But shooting people is….

: LATER: Lost Remote sees a rush on Cheney T-shirts on Cafe Press: “Dick Cheney Hunt Club” and “Deadeye Dick’s Gun Club.”

Behind the cameras

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.

You’re the boss

CBS News starts a nice and symbolic experiment today having you assign reporter Steve Hartman to his next story. You can vote among three stories, which is cute, but you can also suggest stories he should cover, which is better.

: LATER: More on this from Public Eye.