Posts about tvnews

How we could cover storms

On Twitter, I’ve been ridiculing the #stormporn in coverage of #Irene: the predictable and numbing repetition, alarmism, and idiocy that is TV. Of course, the storm is serious but the coverage is often laughable and, some would argue, a matter of crying wolf. The inefficiency of the coverage is also boggling: crews everywhere, all shooting the same wind and water, yet saying nothing new.

But obviously, there are many new, more efficient, more informative, more level-headed ways to cover a storm such as this. It’s all only a link away.

CNN iReport and FoxNews amusingly named competitor uReport as well as many media sites post pictures and videos from witnesses. Given the opportunity, witnesses can also provide much more detail. When I oversaw Nola.com, the publisher of the Time-Picayune got us to put up forums so residents could share information about flooded roads. Those same forums were used in Katrina to alert officials to rescue people trapped on roofs.

There is all kinds of data available. There are great maps showing the progress and strength of the storm. Talking Points Memo points to a bunch of outage maps from power companies.

There is much information available directly from governments and their agencies. New York City’s 311 service and site give updates and resources and we can watch the mayor directly on the net. Jen Preston at The New York Times compiled an impressive list of officials using social media to get their messages out. The Wall Street Journal visualized evacuation centers using Foursquare.

Much of the most important information — the forecast — comes from the same sources, such as NOAA and its hurricane center.

And I’m barely scratching the surface of sources of direct information.

So the question the journalists should ask is how they can add value to that. That is the the question must ask constantly now that information can be exchanged so easily and instantly from officials to citizens, data sources to users, and witnesses to witnesses. It’s an everyday question, not just one for emergencies.

Journalists don’t add value by repeating themselves endlessly, but standing in front of random but ultimately uninformative sites where their cameras and trucks happen to be set up (or worse, in the water), by alarming more than informing people.

So how should they? As in some of the example above, they should aggregate and curate reports from witnesses and data from officials. They can visualize data. They provide background and service information. But mostly, shouldn’t reporters report? Standing in the water repeating what we already know over and over is not reporting. Reporting would be finding out what government is not doing — see Katrina. But in truth, with all this information flying by, we don’t need a lot of reporting unless and until government messes up. That’s what is making journalism more efficient and sustainable.

Oh, and journalists and TV networks could still afford a few minutes an hour to deliver real news. While Irene moves up the coast at 14 mph, storms of another sort are still overcoming Syria and Libya, both of which might as well not exist on supposed news networks today. Is that journalism?

Now the FCC cares about journalism

First John Kerry and then the FTC fretted about journalism and what government should do and now FCC Commissioner Michael Copps is swinging his worry beads. CNSNews.com (I hadn’t heard of it before) says Copps is circulating an internal Notification of Inquiry (a step toward rule-making) about journalism and TV hinting at requirements for stations to provide journalism in the public interest and at possible government support.

Journalism and TV: an oxymoron? Well, not always. But often. Local TV news has sucked for years – that horse is out of the barn, over the horizon, and in the glue factory already. Fluff and fires, that’s most of local news on TV. So what is Copps lamenting?

The local broadcast business is going the way of newspapers, only a bit behind and more slowly and without all the attention of self-obsessed print reporters. So what’s to protect?

Local TV news still has, amazingly, the trust of its audience. And it still makes money. So there is a business there. Too bad there’s just so little journalism there.

So I say that Copps shouldn’t be protecting the incumbents or goading them to make more of the same. If he wants to do anything, he should be encouraging new players to compete with local TV and grab some of their attention and dollars.

Scratch that. I don’t want the FCC to do anything that has anything to do with journalism, news, and speech. It’s a bad idea.

The one thing the FCC could do that would encourage more creation of content online, more audience to use it, and thus a better business model would be to get ubiquitous broadband throughout the country. That is the FCC’s job. So, Commissioner, get on with it, please.

MJ OD

When Michael Jackson died, I wondered how quickly the conversation about him would fade online and how long it would persist on TV “news.” Well, it didn’t take long to see the divergence: TV thinks we’re still buzzing about MJ. But online, we’re not.

Here’s Blogpulse on mentions of Michael Jackson:

blogpulsemj

Here’s the dropoff of Michael Jackson searches on Google Trends:

googletrendsmj

Michael Jackson and variants owned Twitter Trends when the news broke; now it is off the home-page list (MJ’s is there, but that appears to be the handiwork of a Twitter spammer [a “spitter”?].

See today‘s most-viewed videos on YouTube: Only one related video (a Michael Jackson dance video, ranked #14) in the top 10.

Digg’s not a very good measure since the half-life of buzz there is as fast as the single wing-flap of a bee, but on the front page as I write this is only one story about Jackson’s worth.

None of these measurements is perfect. But they all show that we had consuming interest in Jackson when the news came out but that quickly faded. Yet cable news and the network morning shows especially are still ODing on MJ. My theory is that if one is doing it, all do it until the first one has the courage to break off; it’s peer pressure. But out here, it doesn’t take us long to get sick of their obessions.

: Cases in point: Right now, Matt Lauer is giving a tour of Neverland and Michael’s closet – including a secret section of Michael’s closet. CBS is promising a special report on the women in Michael’s life. Oh, for someone on TV with a sense of irony.

: Pew says that two-thirds of Americans think the Jackson story got too much coverage.

CBS is leaving the news business

The signs have been adding up: CBSNews.com did major layoffs and an aggressive retreat from news online. CBS stations made news layoffs aplenty. And now CBS is said to be talking with CNN — again — about outsourcing news to CNN. One imagines a one-woman-thick news operation: Katie Couric reading intros to CNN reports. The pressure of being the Tiffany network is long over. I’ll bet they will finally have the guts to go out of the news business, apart from 60 Minutes. And if that happens, others will get the courage to do likewise. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Oh, we’ll hear wailing about public service and the public airwaves — that and a damned expensive contract is why they’ll keep Couric in a storefront operation. But what we have now is not public service. We don’t need three evening newscasts exactly alike except as a repository for erectile dysfunction commercials. So let one or two networks win the ratings. Let CBS put more resources into investigations on 60 Minutes. Let CNN cover breaking news — with more help from witnesses with cameras. I hope they let others take that news and curate it in different ways with different perspectives. There’ll be a new ecology of news on video and it’s about time.

Chases are not news

Let’s hope that one result of the crash of two news helicopters chasing the cops chasing a bad guy is that local TV — and cable — news give up their addiction to this nonstory. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.

TV news loves its own clichés and habits; it likes the sameness and predictability. TV news is OCD: This is how we always cover cities digging out from snowstorms and shoppers mobbing malls on the day after Christmas and cops chasing criminals — and, of course, any fire bigger than a Bic’s flame. There’s no news in any of this. It’s the opposite of news, for we know exactly what will happen. News is what we don’t know. But we know how these chases end.

And we know what will happen with TV news and helicopters: They’ll keep doing it. See earlier journalism-review fretting about chopper chases in 2006, 2003, 2002 and 1997 — and, of course, after the O.J. Simpson chase in 1994. It will never change.

Sex sells (souls)

Is it really the proper duty of ABC News to look up the phone numbers of the alleged Washington madam’s clients to expose them? Is that journalism? Is that news? Is that their proper role? Oh, it’s certainly gossip. It’s entertainment. It’s comedy (see Jon Stewart tonight). But news that affects our lives? Oh, come now. I guess ABC News was just jealous of NBC News catching/entrapping all those predators, even getting a book deal out of it. Where will this escalation end? Will CBS be forced to hunt down foot-fetishistic cross-dressing boy-loving porn-downloading judges or football players or anchors and get a CSI out of it? Seriously, I wonder about the propriety of ABC News taking this active role in helping the reputed Madam out her clients to save her skin. And I wonder whether this is the best use of their investigative resources. No, I know it’s not. It’s pandering, pure and simple.

The unbearable weight of infrastructure

After returning from the National Association of Broadcasters/Radio Television News Directors Association convention in Vegas, I have been haunted by the size of the infrastructure of the industry. The convention center was packed — blimp hangar after blimp hangar and the lots inbetween and meeting rooms all around — with salaries and equipment devoted just to filling a little screen a few minutes a day. Look at the video below — not yet; wait until I tell you — and you will see thousands of salaries walking around — and, of course, they represent a tiny fraction of a percent of the people who work in TV, just those who are sent to conventions in Vegas. There are thousands more like them at home. That will be the death of TV: the unbearable weight of its infrastructure. (I talked about the media infrastructure implosion here and I calculated the savings of a new world of TV practically free of infrastructure here.)

At an RTNDA panel, my pal, panel star Michael Rosenblum, lectured executives and stars of local TV news about this implosion. There was no lighting and so my video of him sucked even more than my usual video (proving the point of the pros, I suppose, and making them smug in their belief that better pixels equal lifetime jobs). And so I put his words on top of random images from the floor of the convention, just to show the number of people, the salaries, the weight of it. Over to you, Michael:

But, of course, it’s not just about the infrastructure of staff and equipment but of culture. Now see a San Francisco anchorman from WPIX TV complain, predictably, about quality and hear Michael’s response (again there was no lighting — as the anchorman pointed out — and my video sucks, but you can get the substance of it; think of this as a transcript with sound, a podcast with wallpaper):

Now go to Michael’s blog as he reacts to my wishful and surely and sadly wrong suggestion that the end of the age of the anchor may be at hand — anchors like that guy. He calculates the real cost of Katie Couric’s $14-million-per-year salary:

The whole concept of ‘anchor’ is a complete waste of time and money.

Where did this come from, this notion of the ‘anchor’?

People seem to believe that the ‘anchor’ gives the newscast some kind of credibility.

After all, we call it, The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

Credible?

Yet…

We don’t call it, The New York Times with Tom Friedman, but the New York Times still seems to be pretty credible. And we certainly don’t pay Tom Friedman $14 million a year!

That is a nice sum, $14 million (let the number roll around your tongue for a minute), a year, to work 22 minutes a night, reading what someone else has written for you. By the way, in every other journalistic endeavor we would call that plagiarism. Only in television do we deign to call it ‘journalism’.

There is a rationale that these people somehow earn their pornographic salaries.

Bullcrap!

What they do instead is strip the true journalistic assets of any newsroom, whether it is local news or network, because that $14 million has to come from somewhere, and it comes from the budget of the news division. How many local news operations work with old equipment, broken vans, ancient editing decks and a skeleton staff so that they can pay the ‘anchors’ their insane salaries?

In short, Katie is infrastructure. Along with all that equipment and those executives and those studios. Michael suggests a better use for the money that buys all that infrastructure: reporting.

Newspapers are fairly simple. You get a bunch of reporters. Pay them a decent salary. You give them pads and pencils. You say, ‘here’s your pencil, there’s the door, see you at 6′and they go off and find stories. Works pretty well. (That is why TV news gets its stories from the newspapers, and not the other way round).

We could build a TV newsroom based on a newspaper. We could, for argument’s sake, take 100 great journalists, give them small HD camcorders and laptops and say ‘here’s your camera, there’s the door, see you at 6, and send them all over the world. They could upload their stories and feed them to a web site, 24 hours a day. Refreshing all the time. With text and video and sound… Live and podcast and VOD.

Pretty cool.

Really kind of a digital model for journalism for the future, don’t you think?

And it would not cost all that much.

Let’s say we paid each of our 100 reporters, $140,000 a year. That’s a pretty good salary. You would attract a lot of talent. Real reporting talent.

Where would you get the money from?

Well, let’s take the $14 million you’re paying Katie Couric and guess what… you’re there.

What, really, do you think gives you better journalism?

And then get rid of some of that unnecessary equipment and layers of production and management and imagine how much more you could spend on journalism. Of course, it wouldn’t all fit in 22 minutes a day. But to hell with those 22 minutes. Feed the web with reporting.

If you get rid of the presses and the trucks and the broadcast towers and the headquarters buildings and the fancy equipment and the old-time stars, if you kill the infrastructure, you are left with more resources for journalism — and savings in the face of reduced revenue in a suddenly competitive marketplace — and the bottom line is a and more efficient and sustainable business.

Infrastructure is the enemy of journalism.

Ah, but you say, what about editors and correspondents? If they’re vital, they’re not infrastructure. If they are not vital, then they are merely expenses and you must get rid of them.

Infrastructure is the enemy.

The value of exclusivity

At this morning’s panel at the RTNDA conference, someone asked Sandy Malcolm of CNN whether they paid Jamal Albaughouti for his video from the Virginia shooting. She said that he just uploaded it. But then they contacted him and negotiated exclusivity and, it seems, payment. I criticized the notion of exclusivity and argued that they’d be better off putting the video out there with a CNN ID to take credit for having gotten it and to get the idea across that one can submit news video to them. I also argued that they should give their videos permalinks and allow them to be embedded (she said they’re working on such things). This video has set a record for CNN, Malcolm said, with more than 2 million views. It could have even more. And by the way, of course, the video is up on YouTube. The value of an exclusive today lasts about 30 seconds.