Posted by: mbtrotter | September 18, 2011

Hiatus — it’s not just for TV shows!

Perhaps you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted to News Mockers for several months. For that, I apologize. It’s not for lack of material; it’s simply been a lack of time. Soon, I’ll be trying my best to get new content posted as regularly as possible. And if it doesn’t work out, well … you know what happens to things that don’t come back from hiatus.

Posted by: mbtrotter | February 17, 2011

Yep, those are entertainment journalists, all right.

Although some profess their hatred for it, (Really, Gawker hating on “TMZ”?), people love their gossip entertainment journalism — “TMZ” was renewed until 2014 last month.

Cop drama “Southland” pretty much nailed the entertainment journalist type last week in an episode about an actor under suspicion of murdering his pop star wife, starting with their tendency to stake out celebrities’ homes and hang around all day.

That’s one of the best journalist mobs I’ve seen on TV. Besides that, the writers pinned down the sneaky, paparazzo-type who tries to get past police for photos without so much as a media credential.

Despite police efforts to keep entertainment journalists at bay, even to the extreme, somehow the information gets out. There’s a leak somewhere, probably motivated by money. In real life, it got “TMZ” Brittany Murphy’s autopsy report that could only have come from the coroner’s office. In “Southland,” photos of the murder scene that could only have come from police cameras get out.

That’s part of the reason people despise entertainment journalists more than regular ones. The invasion of privacy, the actions people consider “sneaky” to get information, happen more frequently. Journalists in particular can’t stand their celebrity-focused counterparts, worrying celebrity journalism will “crowd out” legitimate news. Worries about celebrity journalists being put in charge of actual journalism led a U.K. filmmaker to create a documentary about his pranks on tabloids.

Although entertainment journalists’ or their products’ reputations aren’t so great, there are those who see value in it. An academic paper co-authored by professors from the University of Missouri and the University of Tennessee found people are more likely to change health behaviors after seeing health news focused on a celebrity.

In the show, detectives rely upon sensational tabloid and television reports to advance their investigation.

Even while going to entertainment journalism for information, the detectives talk about how disgusted they are by it. Detective Lydia Adams notes that tabloids pay for information (sounds familiar) and jokingly asks her partner to hit one of the many photographers.

Entertainment journalism is a mixed bag, and “Southland” writers did a good job of showing the love-hate relationship many have with it. People say they hate it because it pays for information and tells sensational stories, but it has a large audience. Journalists say they hate it, but it can have benefits. Police are annoyed by its practitioners, but they’re not above using them for information.

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of Warner Bros. Television and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.

Posted by: mbtrotter | February 8, 2011

Journalism Gets a Super Bowl Commercial.

A lot of people watched Super Bowl XLV Sunday night, and advertisers paid a lot for those eyes to see their commercials.

In a Super Bowl commercial first, journalism the iPad was the focus of one ad.

The commercial didn’t really make an impression on viewers; it’s nowhere to be found in USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings. Online, it got a reaction from Apple fanboys and girls and digital content–minded websites that were already acquainted with The Daily because of its bugs.

But from the commercial, it’s clear that Rupert Murdoch isn’t trying to sell the world’s first tablet — read: iPad — newspaper based on the quality of journalism, which he actually has. Murdoch’s trying to sell it based on what the device is capable of. A device that less than 5 percent of Americans would own if all 15 million were sold in the United States. In the end, Murdoch spent $1 to $2 per potential subscriber for that commercial.

Was the motivation for the ad to sell The Daily? To sell the iPad? Or to sell both?

Journalism finally got a Super Bowl commercial, and it showed us journalism is more about technology, novelty and digital wizardry than quality. Ouch.

Posted by: mbtrotter | January 25, 2011

The local TV news can of worms.

Local TV news has been in Seth MacFarlane’s sights throughout this season of Family Guy. Replacing longtime Quahog 5 anchor Diane Simmons opened up more opportunities for the show to explore and comment on issues in local news, and viewers got to see the show’s take on several of them in “And I’m Joyce Kinney.”

First up — after Brian’s declaration he hates local news — was a riff on what’s become a standard feature of many newscasts.

Brian may be onto something saying he hates local news. From 1998 to 2008, local news viewership fell from 64 percent of Americans to 52 percent, according to Pew Research’s The State of the News Media report.

And “Child of the Month” would have to be the MacFarlane take on Wednesday’s Child adoption features, sponsored by Freddie Mac Foundation. Partner stations in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., broadcast weekly segments about children waiting to be adopted, and the practice has caught on in other markets, too.

The anchors, of course, are never so brutally or inappropriately honest, but Lois’ reaction is probably the norm among viewers.

Later in the episode, we learn Lois really likes new anchor Joyce Kinney. As in, fangirl.

There are fan sites for ESPN’s Erin Andrews, Fox News’ Julie Banderas and CNBC’s Erin Burnett, but they’re on networks. From personal experience, however, I can tell you people usually hold their local TV news personalities in high regard. During an internship at KABC-TV in 2008, the No. 1 question I got about the position was, “What’s so-and-so like?” There’s something about being on TV that leads people to think “celebrity.” Newspaper or online reporters? Meh. TV reporters? Where?! OMG!

By the way, pretty spot-on depiction of the news station. Did you notice what didn’t belong? That’s right, the guy smoking in the edit bay; you can’t smoke inside anywhere. If you said Tom Tucker’s bizarre close to the newscast, you must not have heard about Fox 5 New York’s Ernie Anastos. Think Tom is so outrageous now?

Although it didn’t use the wording journalists are used to, the episode was based on the idea of statements made on the record and those made off the record.

The whole “off the record” idea is much more complicated than people realize, even for journalists. But what is understood is that to be off the record, a source has to ask for it.

Lois can be angry and feel betrayed; she felt she and Joyce were having a conversation as friends. But there was never an agreement or even an indication that their conversation over drinks was off the record.

(Note: This episode concluded with the revelation Joyce became an anchor at Quahog 5 to get revenge on Lois, who had bullied her in their high school years. I’m not addressing that because I hope everyone understands that’s a terrible motivation to become a journalist, and one that wouldn’t get a person very far in his or her career as one.)

Bonus! The schlocky local news intro

If you’ve seen an actual news intro like this, I want to see it.

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of 20th Century Fox Television and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.

Posted by: mbtrotter | January 17, 2011

Superheroes and journalists need each other.

Think about it. If superheroes didn’t have journalists, they’d be stuck busting low-level criminals or performing their own lengthy investigations, and without someone to publicize their deeds, they’d never get anywhere.

If journalists didn’t have superheroes, they’d be stuck covering run-of-the-mill cops beats, and without someone to act on their investigative pieces, nothing would ever get done. Supervillains would chuckle at the stories journalists put out about them, secure in knowing that no matter how accurate they were, nobody would do anything to stop their (complex web of corruption in city government/plan to take over the world/various types of mass-effect rays).

So really, it came as no surprise when NBC’s new caped vigilante program, The Cape, was full of portrayals of journalists. In an astute show of cultural awareness, however, the hero’s journalistic counterpoint is a blogger.

Investigative blogger Orwell has been right about a few corrupt officials already, it seems, so once characters see someone on the list, they believe it. (And the goatee is clearly not helping that guy. It’s a superhero show — goatee means bad guy!)

Of course, since this is a blogger involved, Orwell is good with technology. As in, Orwell can hack main character Vince Faraday’s computer in order to show him an impressive multimedia presentation on corruption in Palm City. I mean, not just any schlub with Internet access can start a blog.

So Orwell’s tech-savvy and had some good information. Journalist, right? Well … Orwell pretty easily crosses the line from reporting to advocacy, then crosses the line from advocacy to action. That’s a step further than most journalists are comfortable with.

(Surprise! Orwell’s a hot female. Were you expecting that?)

From watching the first two hours of the series, I’m stuck with the impression that Orwell will be much more of a sidekick to The Cape than she’ll be a journalist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; if you compare her role to journalists’, both are about discovering information that needs to be known and may impact actions taken by those who can influence the events.

But the kind of blogger Orwell is, is the kind of blogger that makes journalists lose sleep at night. They’re less tied to journalism ethics and traditions, and they’re taking traditional news outlets’ audiences. And more and more people are noticing the influence bloggers can have.

See the look on the maitre d’s face? He knows what’s up. A blogger with that much reach can have a real impact on business with a single review, so it’s a good idea to serve them.

In 1999, traditional food critics still had that kind of pull, as portrayed in The Simpsons episode “Guess Who’s Coming to Criticize Dinner?” (Add that to the queue of Simpsons-related posts I need to write.) Over the years between then and now, food and movie critics have lost audience to or taken refuge on the Internet. (Ironically, that links to the blog of renowned movie critic Roger Ebert.)

What I — and Tim McGuire, I’m sure — want to know is how Orwell is making money off her blog. I didn’t see any ads on it. Nobody mentioned a paid subscription. But she’s making enough money to have a couple fancy cars and an incredible home office setup. How many people do you know with a Minority Report–style touch-screen computer paid for from his or her blog income? Better question: How many people do you know with blog income?

Bonus observations from The Cape!

Who is and isn’t a journalist was the main issue from the show, but there’s far more than that to take a look at.

Why are old media so common in The Capewith all the technology available?

Granted, Max and The Cape don’t have the tech Orwell does, but over-the-air TV and newspaper clippings? Somebody’s got to have an unsecured wireless network around their hideouts. Everybody else is reading newspapers or getting their news from TV, it would seem.

Speaking of TV news, here are the anchors on the show, in order of appearance.



The male anchor is Groundlings alumnus David Jahn, who’s acted in many TV and film roles. The female anchor struck me as familiar from living in the nation’s No. 2 TV market up until seven months ago.

She’s KTLA’s Wendy Burch, a morning news anchor who has also worked at the L.A. ABC affiliate. Hey, it’s an example of a journalist selling out, something I’ve blogged about before. At this point, Burch is 11 TV or film appearances away from taking Hal Fishman’s record as KTLA reporter/anchor who played a journalist the most.

Besides an actual anchor playing an anchor, The Cape had a nice scene where a bunch of (presumably) extras formed a pretty convincing swarm of journalists waiting outside Palm City’s city hall to ask billionaire Peter Fleming about his takeover and privatization of the police department.

Well, convincing except for the fact you could tell none of them was actually a journalist. No microphones in Fleming’s face? Not a notepad among them? Men in suits holding cameras? Little to no jostling for position and people happy to be at the subject’s back? And not one satellite truck!

I leave you with a clip of aerial coverage of a police pursuit. Aside from getting a closeup on the suspect you never could from a helicopter, it’s pretty typical, from the helicopter presumably getting too close at times to the station not having the good sense to cut away when the gas tank car Faraday took refuge under started being hit by heavy automatic rifle fire. Enjoy!

All video in this post is the copyrighted material of NBC Universal and was purchased by the author for not-for-profit use.

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