Posts from January 9, 2005

Media on media

Media on media

: Reminder: I’ll be on Air America’s Morning Sedition Monday at 8:30. Topics this week:

: Armstrong Williams selling his soul for a buck to flack for No Child Left Behind (see posts here and here).

: The question of whether we’ve pased over the line of ODing on tsunami coverage: Is it appropriate or exploitation (see post here)?

: If there’s time, Jonathan Klein v. Tucker Carlson and Crossfire (posts here and here).

Tsunami OD?

Tsunami OD?

: When is enough coverage too much coverage of a tragedy like the tsunami? When does coverage pass over the line from news to exploitation? How do we know where that line is? Can the audience tell us, or not? These are just questions, but coverage by all the broadcast and cable networks — especially CNN — make me ask them.

CNN is built for crises. It has reporters on the ground; it is primed for action. War? Natural disaster? CNN’s there. Fox, on the other hand, is mostly talk. It started tiptoeing away from the tsunami story — at last from constant, wall-to-wall coverage — a few days ago. But even the BBC felt the pressure; on the Sirius BBC World feed the other day, I heard them read letters from listeners who said that, yes, this is a tragedy but how about covering other stories, too, and not repeating yourself all day long.

CNN is still pretty much round-the-clock with the story. And at some point, especially in a disaster such as this, I have to wonder when the hunger for human interest becomes exploitation. Are we there yet? Or have the other networks dropped the ball and CNN is giving this unimaginably large tragedy the proper coverage it deserves? Much of CNN’s coverage has been superb. I have seen amazing stories of real people, real tragedy, making the numbers human. But I’ve also seen much pathos passing as news.

Can the audience help decide the proper level of coverage? I don’t know. But the audience is speaking. TVNewser reports [via Kaus] that CNN’s ratings are up 40 percent but are still losing to Fox:

Thursday’s CNN special report, “Saving The Children,” was an excellent, compelling example of storytelling — but the constant promos didn’t attract a big audience. The show averaged 717,000 viewers at 10pm. (On FNC, Greta doubled that number.) CNN’s tsunami coverage performed better than MSNBC’s, though: The 9pm special report delivered 386,000 viewers. Full Thursday numbers:

> FNC: Shep: 1,459,000 / O’Reilly: 2,713,000 / H&C: 1,991,000 / Greta: 1,438,000

> CNN: 7p: 594,000 / 8p: 743,000 / King: 1,042,000 / 10p: 717,000

> MSNBC: Matthews: 476,000 / Olbermann: 386,000 / 9pm: 386,000 / Scarborough: 356,000

So who has the right news judgment? Should we pass this decision to the audience? Or is the old news-as-lecture view right in a case like this: Editors know best and tell us that this is an unpleasant story but it’s important and we need to hear it.

Another question is about reporters who start to become stars on the back of a tragedy. Is that exploitation, or just good work?

Yesterday, I heard one of the anchor (don’t know who, because I was listening via Sirius) say that she had cried many times a day at tsunami stories as she asked a reporter on the scene (the anchor is back here in a comfy studio) how she stands the pain. Did we need the anchor inserting her pathos?

But CNN is hardly alone. ABC’s flacks put out the story that Diane Sawyer simply didn’t sleep. Poor Diane. But she’s fed and clothed and housed and rich and alive.

What do you say? Are we about to OD on tsunami coverage? Is it passing over the line into exploitation? Or are we nowhere near that line and still need much more coverage?

Justice followup

Justice followup

: Followuip on the death of Zeyad’s cousin: The first soldier tried got off the most serious charge in part because the defense said there was no proof the victim was dead. That sounded downright fishy. Now here‘s a story that says in the trial of a second U.S. GI defendant, there is a move to exhume the body, though that hasn’t been done yet.

One from Column A, one from Column B

One from Column A, one from Column B

: says it has an exclusive before tonight’s People’s Choice awards.They say both Fahrenheit 9/11 and Passion of the Christ will win awards — but it’s no long a scientific sampling of the people’s real choice; it’s an easily rigged internet poll now:

But are these selections REALLY the American people’s choices? CBS ditched Gallup Poll judging for cheap Internet voting that can be manipulated easily by zealous fans. “Tinseltown has been buzzing about organized campaigns on behalf of Moore’s Bush-bashing Fahrenheit 9/11, reports The New York Post.

Although “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Passion of the Christ” were shut out of next Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, their Oscar campaigns for Best Picture will get a last-minute boost from victories tonight at the People’s Choice Awards (8 p.m., CBS).

“Fahrenheit” will triumph as Favorite Movie of 2004, while “Passion’s” hopes will be resurrected with a victory as Favorite Movie Drama — 2 of the People’s Choices 5 Best Picture races….

But controversy will certainly erupt after the victories of both films tonight when critics ask: Do the People’s Choice Awards REALLY reflect the views of the American public? Arguably, they did so in the past when winners were determined by a Gallup Poll survey, but voting was switched this year to less expensive — and less scientific — Internet balloting that’s easily manipulated by the zealous political and religious supporters.

Who do editors really work for? (Or I should say: For whom do editors really work?)

Who do editors really work for? (Or I should say: For whom do editors really work?)

: There has been interesting reaction to new CNN boss Jonathan Klein’s public dissing and canceling of Crossfire — and in turn, interesting reaction to my reaction to that (here).

I have a different take on this from others.

Others say Klein is an ass who won’t inspire loyalty and hard work from his troops by publicly criticizing them. They say he’s a bozo who can’t keep his mouth shut when he disses bloggers in PJs and sticks his foot in his mouth using flood-the-zone allusions when talking about the tsunami. And there’s reason to believe that Klein will give us boring programming that shows off reporters’ egos and spend more Time Warner money and ends up losing more ratings to Fox. I wonder whether Klein would be getting the same criticism on his Crossfire comments if he had not at the same time been firing the conservative guy. Nonetheless, fine: All that is probably true.

But look at this another way. Here’s the question that interests me:

Who does Klein really work for? Who should the producer of a news show or the editor of a paper or the anchor of a news show think he works for?

His company? Her staff? His bosses?

Or the public?

An editor must believe that he works for the public he serves.

He must also believe he belongs to that public. That is especially true today in an era of citizen colleagues and interactivity. But it has always been true. When I worked at People, some editors disdained the audience and thus created crappy content that talked down to people for whom they had no respect.

I always said that with the possible exception of the editor of Barbie magazine, an editor should never refer to the audience as “them” but rather as “us.”

So in that respect, when Klein ends up agreeing with Jon Stewart that Crossfire is a bad and even damaging show, he is speaking not from the perspective of his bosses or his company or his talent or their agents but rather from the perspective of the people he is trying to serve — his public.

And that is a good thing. That is the way journalism should work. We work for the public.

: TVNewser has more here, including a chuck of Howard Kurtz’ show on the topic:

The CNN program Reliable Sources discussed CNN’s plan to cut Crossfire this morning, and the show didn’t go easy on its boss. Today’s critical look at CNN — on CNN’s air — was good to see.

“I think [Crossfire is] great brand name,” Newsday critic Verne Gay said. I think it’s a nutty decision to cancel it. It could be made into great television.” (He’s right on the money.) But syndicated columnist Steve Roberts disagreed. He appeared on Crossfire once: “It was awful. Everybody was yelling at me the whole time. I walked off the set and said ‘don’t call me again.’ They said ‘you were great…'”

“Should Klein has sided with Jon Stewart over his own employees?,” Howard Kurtz asked. “Maybe it wasn’t good for morale for his employees, but it was exactly right for the substance,” Roberts responded.