When TV news got a voice: Fox, et al

FoxNews is 10 years old this week. This year, Al Jazeera turns 10. So did The Daily Show. All that the three have in common, besides birthdays, is that they brought new voices to TV news: no longer the allegedly objective, cold, institutional tone that journalism took on when it became a monopoly, once-size-fits-all business in this country, thanks to the impact of broadcast on the media marketplace. These fraternal triplets each brought perspective to news, a distinct and clearly apparent worldview, and a passion about serving a public that each believed was underserved.

What enabled this to happen? Simple: Choice. Bandwidth. The ability to broadcast off the broadcast tower and its strait-jacket frequencies. Cable made it possible, and satellite. That’s the frequency, Kenneth (which, by the way, was said to Dan Rather a decade before, when the remote control started revolutionizing American media). And now, a decade after the cable age we are in the thick of the internet age, which allows us to not only hear new voices but also to speak with our own.

I had a ding moment about FoxNews in 2003 when CNN’s Jeff Greenfield interviewed me about bloggers. He came trailing a show producer, a field producer, a cameraman, and a soundman, plus unseen editors behind the scenes. I’d done such segments over the years and never thought anything of it — this is how the pros do it, this is how TV is made — until I came to contrast this with FoxNews, which didn’t have armies of field producers and produced pieces.

That’s when I saw the true genius of Roger Ailes, which had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with money. Ailes was creating a third cable news network with little money and so he built it around not producers and their pieces but around conversation and personality. It made the news a helluva lot cheaper to make; it was, as it turns out, a lot more compelling (or entertaining or enraging, if you prefer). And it gave TV news a voice. This wasn’t the artificially inseminated humanity of network anchors or local news morons. This was opinion and sometimes passion. And it worked. It drew a huge audience; it made money; it set agendas in both politics and media. Murdoch held onto the unprofitable New York Post over the years because he wanted a bully pulpit and now he had a bully pulpit, indeed. But even Murdoch is first a businssman and FoxNews was smart business.

Meanwhile, cable and satellites enabled Al Jazeera to serve its public all across the world. And The Daily Show became the news show unafraid to call bullshit. And old TV news only looks older.

I had my next and similar ding moment just a few weeks ago, when I wrote about a three-camera HDTV shoot in my den, the Buzzmachine World Headquarters, where I have also published to the world and broadcast over MSNBC, CNN, and ABCNews.com from the $99 camera on my laptop. More choice. More bandwidth. More voices.

This is the sweet sound, the glorious cacapohony of democracy and the marketplace. It is ever more jarring to those who thought they could control the message. Yes, FoxNews is irritating if you don’t agree with it. Damned sure the same is true of Al Jazeera. And for some, it’s ditto for Jon Stewart. But who can argue that more voices heard can be bad for a democracy?

So I say happy birthday, FoxNews. Same for you, Al Jazeera, and The Daily Show. Many happy and loud returns.

: LATER: Speaking of The Daily Show, Indiana University prof Julia Fox just studied the content of Jon Stewart’s show vs. network news and…

…she says the popular “fake news” program, which last week featured Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a guest, is just as substantive as network coverage. While much has been written in the media about The Daily Show’s impact, Fox’s study is the first scholarly effort to systematically examine how the comedy program compares to traditional television news as sources of political information.

[via Greenslade]

  • sockpuppet in training

    Awesome. 3 bedfellows wedded by Jarvis.

  • Amerian in para 2?

    Just a friendly note, (delete this post)

  • The key element in Fox’s success is that it’s a marketing exercise. Ailes was not the first person to slim down production costs – there were a number of versions of such news reporting in UK cable in the late 80s and early 90s with reporters operating their own cameras. Fox’s viewing figures are due to their targetting an unbalanced news view at a massive consituency who like what they see. Whether that’s good for democracy is a tougher question – in an ideal world we should all be exposed to a variety of worldviews within a single newscast. If we have to go looking for those worldviews across a series of newscasts then my view is that huge numbers won’t bother and worldviews will become less flexible.

  • RonP

    so much for the Pravda perspective. if we were colony animals (like termites) objectivity could be guaranteed across all things, but were not – so subjectivity reigns. Looking back on childhood I would have to say that the 3 network monopoly with Walter Cronkite as its Tai Pan was an incredibly unhealthy situation. Today we know that Uncle Walter was just as biased as Fox news – it just came in a seemingly healthier wrapper. I am fine with the disintegration of the “media” as we know it. The current “network” effect has its problems but i would rather research and check things out for my self rather than the doubleplusgood news on the choco ration from Katie C.

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  • Ailes deserves creating a 24 hour news program on a shoestring budget and moving away from the overproduction and flash that plagues most news media. Its a model that the others should follow.

    However, he also deserves credit for helping move the news away from the reporting of facts and investigation and into this new realm of what can only be called tabloid journalism. By focusing on the cheap, easy and sensational, he proved that you don’t need facts to provide “news.” You just need a hook, and not even a good hook.

    You focus also on Fox News creating a conversation, but they really don’t do that. What any of their programs and its a one way street. They tell you what they think and they are only interested in those that agree with them. While that is a conversation per se, its a very limited one. Don’t confuse providing a conversation with reporting the news. While its possible to do both, its also possible to do neither and more often then not that is exactly what Fox News does on a regular basis.

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  • Dennis

    However, he also deserves credit for helping move the news away from the reporting of facts and investigation and into this new realm of what can only be called tabloid journalism.

    The Tonya Harding and O. J. Simpson trash TV orgies took place before Fox News was born. TV news was rushing headlong into tabloid journalism, and would have with or without Fox.

  • Dean

    For everyone posting here who feels its their duty to take a swipe at FOX or harumph about their “view” I would point out the one undeniable fact that cant be spun – the have massive ratings. Their ratings crush CNN, as for MSNBC its almost not worth mentioning them, they are a blip. They draw this massive crowd because in large part CNN, NBC, ABC and CBS appear virtually interchangeable and all of them are driven by the New York TImes. In the past year or so it came to light, in a suprisingly straight-faced manner, that the New York Times and Washington Post had the cosy habit of sharing with each other what their fornt page would look like prior to printing. Take 2 huge papers, add 4 networks and mix into a single bland voice. The “major” networks are in decline from a viewership standpoint, the New York times is being run into the ground and yet the Audience of Fox News persists, Blogs, grow, all other forms of alternate media continue to bubble up. Fox also appears to be one of the few news networks that takes bloggers seriously rather than viewing them as a threat. I say kudos to Fox and its nice to see they dont share in the “news man” pomposity of the other networks. I am sick of broadcasters who are welded to their chair for 30 years, called “titans” and fawned over for their supposed “clout” and their conniving and currupting access to the powerful. I am not interested in news men as heroes, crusaders, champions, etc. I dont need them to be “venerable” or all the other ego-mad claptrap, I want straight questions that result in straight answers and I will decide. That concept died long ago on the big 3 networks.

  • Tyler Caldwell

    The mainstream media have been a wing of the Democrat party for the last 50 years, and now there’s a cable news station which doesn’t squawk for the Dems, and all the lefties are screaming that the sky is falling.

    The funny thing is, Fox was the station which broke the George W. Bush drunk driving arrest from 25 years earlier, just days before the 2000 election.
    Current Fox Newsman Brit Hume was the ABC debate moderator who grilled Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle in his famous debate vs. Lloyd Bentsen in 1988.
    Nobody ever accused Hume of being anything other than a newsman, then.

    Most of Fox News’ critics cannot delineate between ‘news’ and ‘opinion.’
    They conflate the two, confuse the two, cloud the two, or just are ignorant of the difference.

    It’s the difference between the news page, and the editorial page of a newspaper.

    The hard news aspects of Fox are straight news. They report the facts.

    The ‘opinion’ shows such as “O’Reilly,” “Hannity & Colmes,” etc., are NOT news shows, they’re opinion shows.
    So, naturally they have people giving opinions ! It’s the equivalent to the editorial page of a newspaper.
    On the Fox opinion programs, both/multiple sides of issues are given opportunities to be heard from.

    I haven’t seen any evidence that the news arm of Fox News infuses ‘conservative’ commentary into its hard news reporting.

    Dan Rather got caught lying about fake documents (Sept. 2004) amidst his 20 year feud with the Bushes, and Tom Brokaw had that ‘unfortunate’ moment on-air in 2000, not knowing he was on-camera, when he said to his producer, “We’ve lost Florida.”
    (meaning, GORE lost Florida.)

    Those above are just two quick examples…but it sure is amusing that when Rather, Brokaw, Jennings (R.I.P.) made ‘mistakes,’ or guffaws, they never appeared to err on the side of Republicans—never.

    The following mainstream media people are former Democrat operatives; Bill Moyers, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews, and George Stephanopoulos.

    I cannot imagine Karl Rove (or another big GOP gun) being put in charge of the Washington bureau of ABC News as Stephanopoulos has.
    It just wouldn’t happen.

    I would recommend reading the new book by Mark Halperin of ABC News, in which he admits to overwhelming liberal bias among mainstream media newsrooms.

  • John

    Certainly more voices are needed for democracy, but then at some point, there needs to be a sorting out of the best ideas for problem solving. Finding out if these ideas really work must be done too. This process can be made into a game (inquire at jsuter@sbcglobal.net). I think that’s the missing interface between the Internet and communities.

  • George

    The last ten years have seen a shocking reduction of choice in the ‘spectrum-model’ media, as consolidation amongst corporate owners has been allowed and indeed encouraged. Fox is the exemplar of this shift. To suggest that a few shows adopting a more pugilistic tone equates with ‘democracy and choice’ is disingenuous.

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