Posts about Media

Turkey

I was one of many bloggers and news organizations who noted the passing of the man who invented the TV dinner.

We were taken.

Roy Rivenburg in the LA Times says the story was punctured in 2003.

But obituary writers overlooked that revelation when memorializing Thomas this month as the genius behind the TV dinner. (Some writers also said Thomas has a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Also not true.)

One of the dirty little secrets of journalism is that reporters rarely have time to investigate every claim people make about their pasts. If you want to embellish, just fool one reporter for one article, then you can use it to show other reporters that your story checked out. It also helps to adopt such accouterments as the cufflinks Thomas wore shaped like TV dinner trays.

Never mind that Swanson family members, historians and frozen-food industry officials from the early 1950s have all contradicted Thomas’ tale. Or that, in 1944, the W.L. Maxson Co. created the real first frozen dinner, which was sold to the Navy and later to the airlines. Or that FrigiDinner, not Thomas, devised the first aluminum tray for frozen meals in 1947. Or that several of Thomas’ former colleagues say he had little or nothing to do with Swanson’s product.

A former Swanson publicist, when asked about phony claims of credit, recalled a remark made by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco: “There’s an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”

Indeed. The line was used in a 1951 movie, “The Desert Fox.” And the movie, in turn, swiped it from a 1942 diary entry by Benito Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Galeazzo Ciano.

Lord knows where he got it.

Not getting it

I don’t get it. From the start, I would have thought that Current.TV would have been built to be seen by anyone anywhere. Why shouldn’t I be able to watch the stream online? Better yet, why shouldn’t I get to see the segments they air whenever I want? Better yet, why shouldn’t I see the stuff they don’t air, too? Best yet, why don’t I find the stuff I like and distribute it for them?

That is the potential of Current. I don’t see that online now. Too bad.

: Broadcasting & Cable is live-blogging the launch of Current — which, if they did any of the things above, would be unnecessary, eh?

Agents for all

Scoopt wants to represent citizen journalists when they witness and record and event and want to sell their images to big media for big bucks. B&C writes about it today. A reporter from elsewhere asked me about it; his story didn’t appear when I thought it would, so here’s what I said about the notion of Scoopt.

I’m not sure this will work because I think we are seeing a culture shift in the ethics of news, from the proprietary to the shared, from closed to open.

I am all for citizen journalists making a buck (having made a few as a journalist myself). But…

I wonder whether there’s a conflict between the inherently open and immediate world of citizens’ media and the closed, exclusive-addicted world of big media: Will citizen journalists decide not to share what they see so they can sell an exclusive to a paper or TV show? If they share their material online first, doesn’t that lower the value of what they’re selling to media, because it’s no longer exclusive.

But then one needs to wonder whether the age of the exclusive is over, now that we live in a world where every witness can be a reporter. That affects not only the citizen journalist — because while you’re trying to negotiate a high price for your images, the next guy with the camera phone is ready to sell his — but also the professional journalist, who now finds that his eyewitnesses are his competitors. The internet is a scarcity killer: Online, there is always somebody else who can tell the story, somebody else who can publish the story.

Note that in the London bombings, the Guardian, the BBC, and other outlets asked for people to send them images — free — and they did. Many of these became iconic images of the event. Now if people hold back those images in hopes of selling them, they lose their immediacy and thus some of their value.

I think that in major news events, the ethic of the web will prevail: People will share what they know.

However….

One place where money will be spent by big media is for pictures of celebrities taken by citizen paparazzi. A good shot of a kanoodling couple of stars on the beach will always be a scoop worth paying for.

Breathe

Al Gore’s Current.TV launches today, so I go to the home page and what do I see but a big promo on… Deepak Chopra. Oh, gawd, so this is like the worst of PBS pledge time. Can Yanni be far behind?

The trouble with the news

I’m going to quote three leads from three pieces that were just written about the trouble with the news today. The litany of troubles is no longer the subject of debate. It is conventional wisdom.

First, see the remarkable essay by Judge Richard Posner (who knew that he blogs?) in Sunday’s New York Times book review, setting forth the state of the fourth estate:

The conventional news media are embattled. Attacked by both left and right in book after book, rocked by scandals, challenged by upstart bloggers, they have become a focus of controversy and concern. Their audience is in decline, their credibility with the public in shreds. In a recent poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 65 percent of the respondents thought that most news organizations, if they discover they’ve made a mistake, try to ignore it or cover it up, and 79 percent opined that a media company would hesitate to carry negative stories about a corporation from which it received substantial advertising revenues….

Now here is Barb Palser’s piece in AJR on journalism’s backseat drivers (that’s us):

These are beleaguered times for news organizations. As if their problems with rampant ethical lapses and declining readership and viewership aren’t enough, their competence and motives are being challenged by outsiders with the gall to call them out before a global audience.

Journalists are in the hot seat, their feet held to the flames by citizen bloggers who believe mainstream media are no more trustworthy than the politicians and corporations they cover, that journalists themselves have become too lazy, too cloistered, too self-righteous to be the watchdogs they once were. Or even to recognize what’s news.

And now see Rory O’Connor’s piece, published in a few places on the web:

By any measure American journalism is in a state of crisis. Media scams and scandals abound, embroiling journalists and their news outlets — from Jayson Blair and The New York Times to Dan Rather and CBS News — in controversy. Plagiarism, errors and outright hoaxes proliferate, along with corrections, extensive “Editor’s Notes” and eventual apologies. Partisan political operatives masquerade as credible news agents, disseminating fake news produced by phony journalists. Columnists and commentators accept government and corporate money to shill ideas without disclosing it to their audiences. Government-produced propaganda is presented as objective reportage.

No wonder journalists rank near the bottom of every poll measuring the trustworthiness of American institutions.

And yet still, I hear journalists say there is no problem with journalism… and how dare anyone say there is.

: Here are a few samples of what Posner says about bloggers; read the whole thing. He understands the real interaction between citizens’ and professional journalism:

The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog. Journalists accuse bloggers of having lowered standards. But their real concern is less high-minded – it is the threat that bloggers, who are mostly amateurs, pose to professional journalists and their principal employers, the conventional news media….

Having no staff, the blogger is not expected to be accurate. [I’d certainly argue with that -jeff] Having no advertisers (though this is changing), he has no reason to pull his punches. And not needing a large circulation to cover costs, he can target a segment of the reading public much narrower than a newspaper or a television news channel could aim for. He may even be able to pry that segment away from the conventional media. Blogs pick off the mainstream media’s customers one by one, as it were.

And bloggers thus can specialize in particular topics to an extent that few journalists employed by media companies can, since the more that journalists specialized, the more of them the company would have to hire in order to be able to cover all bases. A newspaper will not hire a journalist for his knowledge of old typewriters, but plenty of people in the blogosphere have that esoteric knowledge, and it was they who brought down Dan Rather. Similarly, not being commercially constrained, a blogger can stick with and dig into a story longer and deeper than the conventional media dare to, lest their readers become bored….

What really sticks in the craw of conventional journalists is that although individual blogs have no warrant of accuracy, the blogosphere as a whole has a better error-correction machinery than the conventional media do. The rapidity with which vast masses of information are pooled and sifted leaves the conventional media in the dust….

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise – not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It’s as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.

How can the conventional news media hope to compete? Especially when the competition is not entirely fair. The bloggers are parasitical on the conventional media. They copy the news and opinion generated by the conventional media, often at considerable expense, without picking up any of the tab….

Some critics worry that ”unfiltered” media like blogs exacerbate social tensions by handing a powerful electronic platform to extremists at no charge….

But probably there is little harm and some good in unfiltered media. They enable unorthodox views to get a hearing. They get 12 million people to write rather than just stare passively at a screen. In an age of specialization and professionalism, they give amateurs a platform….

And most people are sensible enough to distrust communications in an unfiltered medium. They know that anyone can create a blog at essentially zero cost, that most bloggers are uncredentialed amateurs, that bloggers don’t employ fact checkers and don’t have editors and that a blogger can hide behind a pseudonym. They know, in short, that until a blogger’s assertions are validated (as when the mainstream media acknowledge an error discovered by a blogger), there is no reason to repose confidence in what he says. The mainstream media, by contrast, assure their public that they make strenuous efforts to prevent errors from creeping into their articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to trust them, and that is why their serious errors are scandals.