Posts from November 24, 2004

The two posts below go together: The first is about the death of the Dan Rathers of news; the second is what should rise in their place.

The two posts below go together: The first is about the death of the Dan Rathers of news; the second is what should rise in their place.

The death of anchors = the end of one-way news (and what to do about it)

The death of anchors = the end of one-way news (and what to do about it)

: Yes, the exit of Dan Rather, stage left, spotlight off, tail twixt legs, marks the death of the anchor, the extinction of the trusted news star.

But it’s more than that. It’s the toppling of journalism on a pedestal. It’s the end of news as a lecture. It’s the death of one-way media.

That is what anchors embodied. And that is what we, the people formerly known as viewers/listeners/readers in the audience, have rejected.

We rejected the old system of trust: If we trusted the person, it was thought, then we trusted what he said. Anchors equaled automatic authority. But no more.

Oh, trust is still important. In fact, in this new, distributed world of ours, it is even more important. Trust is our organizing principle. Trust is what makes weblogs, Technorati, eBay, Craigs List, RSS, chat, and email work: We pay attention to those we trust; we filter out the rest. We each decide whom to trust; it’s no longer decided for all of us.

We control trust. And so that is how we operate with news, too: We can get the source material on the web or via CSpan to judge the facts for ourselves; we can follow the track record of reporters and news organizations to see when they mess up and whether we should believe them; we follow the links of those who have not led us astray; we can see who is being transparent and who is not and judge accordingly; we decide what stories are important for us; we get to question those in power thanks to new media. We are in control.

The idea that we should just sit there and watch as someone reads the news to us is — now that we see the alternatives — quaint at best, condescending at worst. Why the hell should we ever have let Dan Rather decide what’s important to us and how we should should look at it? How did we ever tolerate listening to the news from him without taking the opportunity to talk back?

And just look at what happened when we did talk back: Dan Rather could not stand the idea that bloggers in PJs could have facts and a voice; he attacked those who only tried to help him get to the truth; he showed that he cared more about his position on the pedestal than about the truth or serving his public. This led to his downfall. Dan Rather wasn’t made to listen, only to speak. When he was forced to listen, it destroyed him.

All this is not to say that reading the news is outmoded, or that video is obsolete. Hardly. They’re convenient means of communication. There will always be on-camera anchors and reporters, prettier than your average bear. That’s not the old-fashioned part of network news.

No, instead, it’s the top-down, one-way, one-size-fits-all news-extruding machine that’s ready for the mothballs. We’ve seen how this sausage is made and we’re not swallowing it anymore. It’s the old view of delivering the news that’s antiquated. We no longer wait for the news to come to us; now the news waits for us to go get it. We are in control.

So don’t think for a second, CBS News, that finding the right face with the right voice will solve your problems. It only extends them. Same for you, NBC and ABC and, for that matter, cable news.

No, you have to explode your newsroom, tear apart your shows, rethink news to turn it into a conversation, and hand over control to the people you used to read to if you want to survive in our new world. And it’s not hard.

How to explode TV news in four easy steps

How to explode TV news in four easy steps

Try this:

1. Slice.

Cut up your shows into stories and put them all online.

After you air a story, it’s fishwrap. Nobody can see it. If they missed it, well, that’s tough for them. Is that any way to treat your public? Well, you don’t have to anymore.

You should put up every story you do — and not just as a stream but as files that the people can distribute on their own.

You can still make money on this — in fact, you’ll make new money: Put ads on the video; track those ads; and tack on a Creative Commons license that says people can distribute the video but cannnot muck with it. And you’ll find something magical will happen: Your audience will market your product for you and distribute it for you and it won’t cost you anything more. It’s free money, damnit. Tell that to your stockholders.

And while you’re at it, take your script for the segment and associate it with the video as meta data (that is, post it on a blog with a link to the video) so people can find your stories on search engines and then watch them.

This means that people who really want to see your stories and are interested in them can now do so. We’re no longer captive to your schedule and your selection; we can watch what interests us. We are in control.

The result: You will get a more interested and involved audience. You will get a bigger audience. You will get more people who will like what you do and start watching your old-fashioned shows. You will benefit. We will benefit.

If you really care about informing the public — which, of course, you do — then this is the first step to doing it a new and better way.

2. Add.

You have more material for every story you do: I’ve seen how much goes into a 3-minute piece and how much is left out.

Now in most cases, I do think that stuff that’s cut is extraneous to most people.

You’re right to edit and package. Keep it up.

And in the early days of online when news people thought this medium was all about getting more time to tell longer stories with more stuff and another chance to show off cute writing, I screamed in protest: No, your stories are already too long anyway. Find the nearest period!

But for those who are intensely interested in a story or who want to look deeper into what we say, why not put up all the rest of your material? Why throw it away? Put up entire interviews and do it in chunks so people people link directly to one piece or another and, in essence, put up their own remixes. Show the world your great reporting.

If you’re doing your job right, this will help your credibility and reputation, for most people will see that you really did pick the right stuff and did tell the story well.

More important, you enable people who need more information to get it. And that is our job, isn’t it?

3. Link.

It’s as simple as that: Link outside of your own echo chamber of a newsroom. Link to your competitors and show what they did on stories — stories you did better, stories you didn’t do. Do not assume we are your captive. Assume we are smart and want to be informed and want to find the best reports we can. Also assume that we are a thinking public and we want to see and hear different perspectives on a story so we can decide what we think. So help us. We’ll appreciate it.

Link to your competitors. It will be good for you. It will make you want to do better jobs on stories than they do.

4. Listen.

Listen to the people you used to call your audience but should see as your equals.

The next time bloggers suggest a fact of your may be wrong, CBS, listen to them. Quote them. Look into what they say. Thank them. Learn your lesson, huh?

And it’s not just about fact-checking your ass. It’s about knowing that your former viewers have something valuable to say. At first, it’s just about quoting their words.

But you know that it won’t be very long before we’re all equipped with cameras and we’ll all be witnesses to our 15 minutes of news. The wise news organization will create an easy way to collect and remix and redistribute all that. Wouldn’t you like to have eyewitness video from the heart of a new story? Recognize that anyone can be a reporter. Anyone who sees and reports news is a reporter. So widen your world. Listen. Quote. Make your public a star alongside your anchors.

: When you’ve done all that, you’ve turned news into a conversation.

You’ve turned the spotlight away from the anchor — the mere personality who got you in trouble — and you turn it onto the news itself, where it belongs.

You’ve engaged the people you used to call your viewers, who used to just sit there but have since started walking away, into the news.

You’ve made anchors what they should be: supporting players, second bananas. (And you’ve saved yourself a helluva lot of money along the way.)

And you’ve informed the public. Isn’t that what news is about instead of an anchor’s fame?

And now a word from our sponsor

And now a word from our sponsor

: Tom Watson hates my post last night giving bloggers credit for helping topple Rather. Go read it.

: UPDATE: There’s an odd discussion going on here and at Tom’s blog on bourgeois vs. proletarian with folks complaining that I can’t be just folk because I’ve had media jobs. My response to Tom and the commenter here:

First, this was my response to someone who agreed with you in a comment under my link to your post:

Pardon me, but you sound a bit like the cultural revolution in Mao’s time, making the proletariat into the new exclusive class. I’m people, too. I don’t declare myself “a-list.” You said that. In the blogosophere, in fact, talking about an a-list is old media think, back to the days when only the one or two biggest could afford the printing press or the broadcast tower. That is mass-market-think. And that is over. Now we are all equal, we’re all just people. That’s the point. Dan Rather is no beter than you or me. He may think he is. By this rationale, you may think he is. But I don’t. And I don’t think I’m any better — any more of an a-lister — than anyone else. So don’t put me apart in a room you built for me.

Second, I had not appeared on TV or been quoted in media in years. Oh, yes, I used to be — when I had a media perch at TVGuide and People. But that went away. It came back only because I am blogging. I’ve been on those shows with the likes of the man behind PowerLineBlog and much of the Rather fact-checking, who’s not, to the best of my knowledge, a media mogul (he’s not even from New York!). Sure, big media is going to be more comfortable at first putting on other media guys but that is expanding and that is a great thing.

Third, on Rather himself: I was highly critical of Rather long before I became a blogger. I called him the dumbest anchor alive. I regularly complained about his pomposity. So this is not a blogger-come-lately attitude; it is my opinion of Rather and has been for years. I think that Rather has been bad for journalism and bad for TV journalism and he was particularly poisonous when he refused to admit for 12 days that he could have made a mistake. I am glad to see him dethroned for more than the latest Rathergate. I wrote a much longer set of posts today trying to explain that here [scroll up].

Fourth, that is not out of some right-wing conspiracy. I’m a Democrat. Voted for Kerry. Can’t stand Rather. That’s not incompatible. And it’s not the stuff of conspiracy theories.

Thanks for the nice things you said at the same time. I appreciate that. I like you and your blog, too. And I love having discussions like this. These are not the discussions of bourgeois vs. proletariat it’s just a discussion.

Dan Rather’s biggest mistake was dismissing those who would have gotten him closer to the truth just because they weren’t elite and weren’t fellow professionals. That kept him removed from the facts and removed from his public; it was just plain snobbish. Please don’t do the same thing in reverse to me just because I’ve been lucky to have some good jobs. I’m still just another person in a conversation with you and that is the real future of media….

And, by the way, Tom, your resume looks an awful lot like mine. So what we have here is a media pro complaining about a media pro complaining about a media pro. Do I hear an echo in here? Do I hear an echo in here? Let’s get past judging people by what they are or were and instead judge what they say and how they say it. Isn’t that what this medium is all about? I am proud of my resume as you should be proud of yours. But I’d rather you argue with my arguments than with my CV.

The next FCC FOIA

The next FCC FOIA

: I just filed the next FCC Freedom of Information Act request. I had suggested that a reporter should do this; when I talked with Howard Stern, he said I should do it.

The question: What evidence does the FCC have that any Viacom executive knew that Janet Jackson would bare her breast and thus should be fined $550,000 for the crime? Jackson said no one knew. Timberlake said no one knew. But in its complaint against CBS et al, the only thing the FCC says was a violation of the law was 19/32 of a second — let’s repeat that: 19/32 of a second — during which Jackson’s titanium-tipped tit was exposed to the air and airwaves. Says the commission:

Based upon the preceding analysis, we find, in context, that the exposure of Ms. Jackson