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Posts Tagged ‘mainstream media’

When I was growing up, my dad got his news from three newspapers and three men on television. The newspapers and networks were owned by different people who had this in common: their main business was not energy or entertainment but rather, news. H&B

The three men were the veteran team of  Chet Huntley and David Brinkley over on NBC and, on CBS, the singular Walter Cronkite. My dad favored the Huntley/Brinkley report, perhaps because it so deftly combined a Washington insider feel (courtesy of Brinkley) with solid reporting on the rest of the world (Huntley’s turf). But it was hard not to watch Cronkite during the momentous events, of which there were many in the sixties and seventies. Cronkite’s style – his voice, his less than perfect face, the way he seemed on the verge of chuckling – was reassuring, even when covering the pain of the Kennedy assassination or the morass that represented the Vietnam War. His delight at the moon WK1landing was evident and paralleled our own. He would not – could not – give us the news without some sort of reaction, sometimes subtly (raising an eyebrow, removing his glasses to wipe away a tear), sometimes quite overtly (his comments about the progress of the Vietnam War). Were his reactions “appropriate” for a newscaster? No matter, they made him human, accessible, familiar and then, to millions of Americans something more:  the most trusted man in America.

That’s a heavily symbolic role to assume and Cronkite was apparently modest about assuming it. True, he spent a long time in the public eye during a continuing series of historic events. He was a part of the halcyon days of the television news program. Certainly luck and timing were responsible for his becoming so well-known and well-regarded. Brinkley broadcast during those years as well and so did Sam Donaldson over on ABC but it was Cronkite who became the icon. Perhaps the trust we placed in him spoke to our desperate need for something or someone we could count on. Nowadays, we still have that need, but we’re more likely to believe in a celebrity or a spiritualist or our personal shrink. Then, at that time in history, perhaps, it was inevitable that we would choose to invest our faith in an anchorman with a distinctive style who delivered – and occasionally showed us he was affected by – the news of the day. WK2

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I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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TwitI am not the most backward person I know when it comes to technology but neither am I in the vanguard. Some of that relates to my skill set (not innately tech-focused  and my age (the dark side of fifty). I also find the immediacy of certain kinds of high-tech communication leaves a lot to be desired in the in-depth department. Texting is fine when you are running late (or L8) and sending a tweet that says “help” when you’re sinking in quicksand might make sense, but as for reporting (not to mention analyzing, deciphering, dissecting or opining on) the news, I want quality, I want depth and I want complete sentences.

Let me now revise that.

protestIn the space of a few days, Twitter, that ubiquitous and previously irritating form of communication favored by second-strong celebrities, has become a force for real revolution: the kind that allows ordinary (or extraordinary) citizens a voice even in the midst of a government crackdown on communications. Of course I’m referring to Iran, where young protesters are broadcasting minute by real-time minute about their protests in a way that CNN has been absolutely unable to do.

There are a number of reports that talk about this new use for this new medium, including today’s New York Times and a recent post by Andrew Sullivan online at the Atlantic Magazine.

But what I’m most excited about is not just the on-the-spot, heartfelt reporting (one demonstrator sent a tweet that proclaimed “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.”) but also the response of the other social networkers around the world. They are providing support both emotional (a large Facebook group as well as a number of followers around the world plugged in to “listen” to the opposition reports) and practical (supplying proxy server addresses for Twitter accounts when the government shuts down local Internet access).

Think about it: a democratic uprising takes place in one part of the world and people all over the globe can mobilize world opinion and perhaps more in a nanosecond. Are there young people in North Korea who, drawn to the social power of Facebook or Twitter, will also be drawn to protest1the power of freedom? What about Cuba? What about Saudi Arabia? Moreover, what does the involvement of twitterers say about the potential to interest an entire generation in the politics of communication and the possibility of change?

Twitter will still be used for inane reports about the breakfast habits of wanna-be A-listers and as a cruelly simple way of engineering a breakup, I suppose. But the idea that it can be used to sustain a social democracy movement has me as excited as I’ve been in years. I’m ready to open an account if I can sustain the required manual dexterity; I want to keep up. peace

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