Carlin would curse

If you happened to be driving down a New Jersey street this morning and saw a tall, pencil-necked, sweaty geek “running” down the road cursing into what appeared to be thin air, that would be me. But what I was cursing was what I was hearing on my iPod: the latest edition of On the Media, which gave the worst possible memorial to the legacy of George Carlin with its report on the seven dirty words quoting a Miami TV critic who gave unquestioned credence to the so-called Parents Television Council, saying that we are a nation divided about indecency. Bullshit.

I’ve been a longtime listener and fan of OtM but I have to say that they have been driving me a bit crazy lately covering China and Russia more than American media and giving more time to political screeds than media news. Maybe they’re bored with the beat but I can’t see how they could be given that media are undergoing history, volcanic, accelerating, unsure, and profound change that will forever alter media and society. What a great time to cover media in America!

This is on my mind now because they had asked me to be on this week’s show to talk about the Associated Press. Whether or not they had me on to talk about it, that is an important story. But they said that their studio wasn’t ready (who needs a studio when you have a mic and Mac?). So instead, they ran a 20-minute archive piece about a guy who collected sounds. By this time in my run, I wasn’t cursing, I was merely muttering. What an opportunity lost. The AP story is rich with mines to explore about the new architecture of media and its interrelationships. And now the peg, the moment is gone.

This is more on my mind because I am a loyal listener and because I want to hear OtM cover all this huge change in media. I’d love to hear them get to Sam Zell to explain his plans for the Tribune (and I’ll bet they could) and to Rupert Murdoch to share his vision for the Journal. I’d like to hear them give attention to experiments in new ways to cover news — there are many. I’d want some perspective on all the layoffs in the business and what impact they have and whether there are better ways to restructure journalism. I’d be eager to have them explore new business models for news. If they’re going abroad, I’d like them to bring back ideas that would be useful for American media to borrow. I’d like them to use OtM as a laboratory for multimedia itself: video, wikis, collaborative criticism, perhaps. Maybe they should find and turn the spotlight on the next Brian Stelters and Adrian Holovatys — the young innovators who will save journalism. They could also turn their sharp pens on the media executives who are rearranging cubicles on the decks of their Titantics. They could start tracking how Arianna Huffington invades Chicago and how the Tribune reacts. They could explain how new tools — Twitter, Flip video cameras, iPhones — could be used to do journalism. I could go on listing stories I’d like to hear for a page (and remember, there is no end to pages on the web).

OtM should consider this a valentine not an attack. I want them to put their reporting and analytical talents to covering American media again. Please.

  • I have to agree with you, Jeff. OtM is one of the best things out there but lately it seems as if they’ve really been phoning it in. I could not believe the endless piece about the guy who collected sounds. This was the very definition of filler.

    I live in Miami and am subjected to Glenn Garvin’s myopic, bitter and largely uninformed reviews since he took over for the great Terry Jackson a few years back and, while I tried hard to give him the benefit of the doubt during his segment with Brooke, the whole thing made me want to cringe. Democracy Now! did a much better homage (hagiography?) to Carlin last week.

    Come on, OtM! Get it together!!!!

  • Anon

    Jeff, you might be outing yourself as one of the out-of-touch elitists Zell loves railing against if you think NPR is such a heavyweight outlet that it can “get to” Zell and Rupert Murdoch. A junior NPR staffer trying to book your dream show is likely to end up with little more than a stock market analyst and a j-professor at the end of the day. Maybe somebody from editorial management at one of the Zell properties. But I’m skeptical you’re going to easily net the big men on your show for any kind of frank conversation. These guys do performances (ex. Zell’s LAT briefing, quarterly conference calls), not interviews. And they considering themselves to be orders of magnitude above anybody ever associated with NPR.

  • Anon,
    There aer still plenty of other ideas. I wonder who has asked Zell. He likes to be the iconoclast. He likes to be quoted. I just wonder. Can’t know until we try.

  • Jeff:
    You have your platform and OtM has theirs. You should be happy that yours gets plenty of traffic. If you don’t think the AP story is getting enough coverage than that might be worth an investigation on its own.

    By the way Garfield was off last week which may be why they were light on new stories, and WNYC did relocate its studio.

    Finally Tony Schwartz was not just “some guy”, did you listen to the piece? He may have cost Goldwater the election.

    If there is a lesson to be drawn from all this, it is that a weekly show like OtM is inadequate to the task at hand, all the more reason for you to keep at it. (Although personally I think your theme that technology will solve things a bit idealistic.)

  • Robert,
    I write as a fan of OtM and I would like them to cover more stories like that. Obviously, I already knew the AP story.
    The Schwartz segment was was long and recently broadcast and I’d already heard it. A newsy story about what’s happening in media today clearly beats a rerun about what happened yesterday, as far as I’m concerned.

  • Jeff:
    Right, but OtM is still only an hour long. So your usual preaching about the need for new outlets is only confirmed by your complaint. While they are constrained by the number and timeliness of their stories, you are not.

    One can see the problem with not only weekly radio shows, but the weekly news and opinion magazines as well. They are all struggling over how to remain relevant these days.

    I find that I listen to OtM as frequently as a podcast as I do on broadcast, and this is so even with my Sirius service which plays it several times over the weekend, compared to once on WNYC-FM.

    If print is doomed, then what? Josh Marshall is doing a great job as a model for a new approach, but he still doesn’t have the long, in depth, articles that one finds in “The Nation” or “Mother Jones” or the like, neither does Huffington Post.

    If they did run long articles like these, would anyone read them online?

  • I have enjoyed the OTM reportage from China and Russia—I think it is valuable in and of itself, and also as a point of reference to compare to our own media in the USA.

    That said, I have been disappointed by some of the recent OTM episodes. Hopefully they can step it back up soon.

    Does OTM have a wiki or something where people can submit story ideas? If not, why not?

  • Agreed, Jeff. i was surprised that Garfield, a pre-eminent commenter on the ad industry, didn’t say a word about the recent UpFronts, with the sea change they represent for broadcast and the ad industry.

    Also, agree on China, Russia, etc, as I wrote on, recently in a post titled “Off the Media,” that should be linked from my name above (I tried putting it in the comment, but it belched).

  • Jonny — no wiki, but they do allow comments on their stories. Interestingly quite a few people have posted positive comments about the Schwartz story.

    I thought there was at least some questioning of the Parents Television Council, so I didn’t think it was so bad, and it was interesting to hear their spokesman. The extensive China coverage recently hasn’t been to my taste, though.

  • Oh, and the reason for rerunning the Tony Schwartz story was presumably his recent death and not just for want of filler.