comedy, journalism, tv

How Jon Stewart changed the media … CNN, at least

When a comedian hands you your ass on a plate, the best way to respond it to learn from it:

Stewart clearly has had an impact on other media careers and decisions, most notably on the termination of the political debate show Crossfire on CNN. The then-CEO of the network, Jon Klein, said when he canceled the show in 2005 that he was “firmly in the Jon Stewart camp” on the issue of cable news offering too much partisan arguing. One veteran CNN executive told me that Stewart’s determined efforts to hold that network’s feet to the fire had had an impact all the way to the top of CNN’s management.

via Bill Carter: How Jon Stewart Changed Media (and Made Megyn Kelly Cry) – Hollywood Reporter.

It’s a pity Fox didn’t respond the same way.


What the world needs now is another pol-spinner like I need a hole in my head

Ironically, the first “RELATED” link after this tale of expanding the punditocracy while actual reporting withers is: “Jeff Zucker to CNN Staff: We are still unequivocally dedicated to quality journalism.”

CNN Adds Stephanie Cutter, Kevin Madden as Political Commentators – TVNewser.

To lighten the mood a bit for your weekend, here’s the source of the headline, featuring University of Georgia lecturer David Lowery:


CNN, CNET and necessary evils

Those Of Us Who Care About Journalism are up in metaphorical arms this week over two stories:

1. The Daily Show laid bare the effects of CNN cutting its investigative reporters. I’m no optimist — I saw in my grad school work more than a decade ago that we were likely to see a race to the bottom in terms of quality, but I was still hoping CNN would attempt to distinguish itself from unabashedly lefty MSNBC and unabashedly loony Fox by doing actual reporting.

2. CNET and corporate owner CBS are in a kerfuffle because CNET wanted to bestow an honor upon a device that, in addition to a few other neat features, lets viewers zap ads on TV shows they’ve recorded. CBS said no, and CNET’s Greg Sandoval resigned in protest, citing a lack of confidence in “editorial independence.” Sandoval is, of course, an instant folk hero for standing up against blurring the line between business and editorial interests.

I won’t dispute Sandoval’s stand, but let’s back up a second. Why is CNET honoring something that kills a revenue stream?

Salon’s Andrew Leonard puts it nicely here, not letting CBS or CNET off the hook by any means but pointing out the problem:

For 40 employees of a company that is owned by a television network to get together and put their Best-of-Show-imprint on a device that takes dead aim at the business model of their owner is provocative, to say the least.

The underlying problem here: Today’s young adults have grown up in an era in which everything is free. They can browse nearly limitless content on the Internet, and they can watch hundreds of channels on TV. And as the Emily White controversy showed last summer, they’re not all that likely to pay for music.

And that gets us back to CNN. Why did CNN cut its investigative staff? Because they’re not making enough money, and it’s a lot cheaper to hire talking heads to sit in the studio that it is to go to foreign countries and embed a TV crew for months to get one story.

So as much as I hate to be the grownup, I have to remind people: All of this stuff needs to paid for somehow. Do you really want a world in which the programmers are paid but the content creators need to be independently wealthy?

Or, as NewsRadio so aptly put it: “What is the Constitution of the United States? An advertisement!”

(And yes, I know the irony of posting a TV clip that has no advertising. Fair use, blah blah blah, and go out and buy the NewsRadio DVDs like I did!)


24/7 media — how’s that working out for you?

ImageToday is a day to mourn, to wonder why, to search for strength … and to shake our heads at the state of journalism in the era of the 24/7 news cycle.

Sure, law enforcement should get the blame for releasing the name Ryan Lanza to the media rather than Adam Lanza, but the police weren’t the ones passing along lurid, unsourced details and sticking microphones in the faces of 8-year-olds who just lost nearly 20 of their schoolmates.

The harsh truth of disasters, natural and man-made, is that we don’t know many details right away. It’s not sports, which lends itself to live-blogging. (And if you’ve read my MMA live-blogs, you know we sometimes need to correct those as well.) You can have hours go by with no new details. As they said repeatedly on NewsRadio: “Still no news on that disabled train.”

When CNN ushered in the era of 24/7 news, it had a bit of variety. The network would use its time for explanatory journalism, something that may be officially dead if Ann Curry replaces Anderson Cooper in prime time. It wasn’t just a rundown and repeat of the latest tragedy. If something like this happened, sure, it would focus on that. But I don’t recall the frenzy, the need to dig up details and present them as newsworthy simply because the media abhor a vacuum.

Now we have several 24/7 networks and a nearly infinite number of websites. And most of them judge themselves on speed. Not accuracy. Not the newsworthiness of the details they’re dredging up.

I first learned of today’s tragedy while walking past a TGIFridays in a mall. They had several screens hovering over the lunch crowd.

How do we eat while these images are replaying constantly in our line of sight? Are we somehow helping the victims and their families by ensuring that people can’t grab a bite to eat without seeing intrusive pictures of children and their parents on their darkest day?

We can’t pull the plug, of course. The cable networks could all go out of business tomorrow, and we’d still have people hounding every “Ryan Lanza” on Facebook or Twitter.

But we should allow ourselves some restraint. No amount of fretting over the latest incremental, unconfirmed reports on Friday is going to bring anyone back, heal anyone’s pain or prevent tragedies in the future. To gain true perspective, we’ll have to be patient.


CNN, The Supreme Court and health care: The race to be first claims another victim

Andrew Sullivan may be the quintessential blogger, giving us the mix of news, analysis and link-sharing to show us what the medium is capable of doing. No exception today, as he live-blogged the ruling and added some insights from himself and others.

And he doesn’t mind pointing out where others — not just the usual political blowhards, but CNN and Fox — are getting it wrong:

11.43 am. Cable news needs to shut itself down. They failed high school newspaper tests this morning. There’s no excuse whatsoever. They really ought to be ashamed. Covering live events is all they’re really good for any more, if you are not partial to screeching propaganda or pure CNN tedium. And they even (bleep) that up – in a way many pajama-clad amateurs didn’t.

And he’s right, for the most part.

Court opinions can’t always be summarized in a few seconds. Taking the time to read the equivalent of “the mandate isn’t allowed under the Commerce Clause, but because of X, Y and Z, it’s OK to enforce with a tax” is essential. With all due modesty, a then-young grad student at Duke figured all this out more than a decade ago.

And yet some people never learn. Check out Bloomberg’s attempt to take credit for “beating” AP.

It was also, as Sullivan implies with his “pajama-clad amateurs” a good day for some bloggers. Particularly SCOTUSblog, which kept up a tremendous blow-by-blow account as it went through the opinions.

Not that Sullivan’s blog or SCOTUSblog are run by “pajama-clad amateurs.” SCOTUSblog is, ironically, sponsored by Bloomberg Law. Sullivan is now essentially part of Newsweek.

What we’re really seeing here is the blurring of media types. A “blog” is simply a publishing tool. A professional lawyer with some plain-English writing skills may technically be an “amateur” journalist, but that’s meaningless. And when a group like SCOTUSblog takes it time to get it right in a fully transparent way, the medium is working.

What I hope in the long run for journalism is this:

1. We need to keep the news-gathering infrastructure alive. That’s the sad part of CNN’s disaster today. As my fellow USA TODAY alum A.J. Perez said, CNN has bet it all on broadcasting news rather than opinion, and they were already losing that bet before today.

2. We need more people like Sullivan who aren’t beholden to a particular point of view. Sullivan is conservative, though perhaps not in the 2012 Tea Party sense of the word. I love his catchphrase “Biased and Balanced.”

Coincidentally, someone has insisted to me recently that Fox is more honest than other media because it’s honest about its agenda. I can’t accept that. For one thing, it assumes everyone has an agenda other than news-gathering, and I can tell you from 20 years of experience that isn’t true. For another, it’s too simple to say “left” will report “left” and “right” will report “right.”

An institution like Fox that brings the bias from on high through newsroom memos. An individual like Sullivan can be up front about his views (and prove that he’s not beholden to those who share at least a few of them). Newsroom bias is far more complicated.

The bottom line: We need a diversity of honest voices. We need them to compete in ways other than speed-reading and typing.

And then we need someone to pay for it all.

Simple, right?