Posted by: mbtrotter | January 13, 2011

Hello? The media?!

The title of this post perfectly sums up some of the current attitudes toward mass media, and it’s an actual line from the pilot episode of Bob’s Burgers

Bob’s Burgers has to be in a small market. Why else would only one TV station show up to cover a serious report of a restaurant using human remains? And “Cannibal or Can-o Bull?” would never fly in a bigger city; it would be way more generic and boring, like “Burger Meat Investigation.”

Anyway, in an age of instant information online, including restaurant inspection reports, many still see contacting traditional media outlets as their best bet for getting the biggest audience possible. And the media, whoever they are, magically show up.

It’s funny, isn’t it? This interdependence? Anyone can publish on the Internet, but despite all the buzz about SEO and long tails, the goal is still to get your story picked up by old school media outlets. At the same time, news organizations are increasing their use of technology — to get news tips. Got a news tip? Email it. Text it. Use a smartphone app.

Traditional media may be declining, but people still rely on it. As this relationship with technology grows, will tech ever replace TV and print outlets, or will one merely complement the other?

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 3, 2011

The 9/11 health bill pushes Jon Stewart into rare company.

President Barack Obama signed the Zadroga Act — colloquially, the 9/11 health bill — into law from Kailua, Hawaii, today.

Just weeks ago, the bill seemed destined to die in the Senate because of a Republican filibuster, but in what some are calling a “Christmas miracle,” senators passed it Dec. 22.

Why the sudden change of heart? The New York Times’ blog The Caucus pointed to criticism “not just from Democrats, but also from traditional Republican allies, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, and conservative news outlets like Fox News.”

Shepard Smith was one of those who railed against the Senate for trying to vote down the bill. “These people ran to ground zero to save people’s lives and we’re not going to even give them medicine for the illnesses that they got down there? It’s disgusting, it’s a national disgrace, it’s a shame, and everybody who voted against it should have to stand up and account for himself or herself. Is anybody going to hold them accountable?”

But why did Smith suddenly jump into the fray when there had been no reporting on the bill for more than two months? This skewering of politicians and American media companies by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Dec. 16.

Stewart was “flat-on, absolutely right,” Smith said. And as time goes on, credit for getting the bill passed is increasingly falling on the comedian.

NPR reported a tweet of thanks from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that mentioned Stewart — as did an official statement. An analysis from the New York Times drew comparisons to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.

And while there have been naysayers (perhaps CNN is a bit jaded from past Stewart criticisms) they have been outnumbered by those who believe in Stewart’s political and journalistic influence.

Stewart, the man who famously refuses to call himself a journalist, may be the best journalist Americans have.

Three and a half years ago, American Journalism Review highlighted what mainstream media can learn from him. And while questions about the fairness and accuracy of The Daily Show may persist, emerging ideas among journalists and Stewart’s methods are quietly pushing those questions into the background.

From the AJR article:

“Nowhere is the comedy show balanced,” says [Venise Wagner, chair of San Francisco State’s journalism department] “but it allows them more balance in showing what is really going on.”

As journalists, by contrast, “We’ve presented a balanced picture to the public. But is it accurate? Is it authentic?” She cites coverage of the global warming debate, which, until recently, often was presented as an equal argument between scientists who said global warming was occurring and scientists who denied it. “That reality was not authentic. There were very few scientists who refuted the body of evidence” supporting global warming, Wagner says, yet the coverage did not always reflect that.

After his tirade against American media outlets, Stewart interviewed four 9/11 first responders who are having health problems after working at ground zero.

But in a greater show of balance than many cable news channels ever give, Stewart also pressed guest Mike Huckabee for the Republican/media side.

And in pulling no punches while bringing the truth surrounding the Zadroga Act to the forefront of the national conversation, Stewart indeed performed the kind of advocacy journalism that inspired the comparisons to Murrow and Cronkite.

To counter McCarthyism, Murrow used the March 9, 1954 episode of See It Now to show Americans the danger Sen. Joseph McCarthy posed to civil liberties. His remarks were intended to move people to action.

[T]he line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly. … We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason. … (W)e are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent.

By the end of the year, McCarthy had been censured, undoubtedly because of Murrow’s broadcast.

Then there is Cronkite’s commentary on the Vietnam War; it was a bold challenge to American leadership during wartime and a rare indicator of public opinion.

Besides the humor, what is different about Stewart’s focus on the 9/11 health bill?

If that’s all that separates Stewart’s brand of advocacy journalism from Murrow’s and Cronkite’s, then, as reluctant as Stewart is to assume the mantle of journalist, he has shown himself to be the best one of his generation.

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

Posted by: mbtrotter | December 23, 2010

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

Did you know some people get into journalism only to become famous? Surprise! (There are also people ready to make a buck — or 30 — off those who want to be famous journalists.) Journalists can become famous in the course of doing their jobs, especially by breaking big stories or if they’re on TV and constantly exposed to the public.

The tendency for journalists to be elevated to celebrity status is probably bad for the profession more than it’s good for it, and it’s led to a culture of constant attempts at one-upsmanship.

The latest episode of How I Met Your Mother takes a guess at how far some journalists might go at building their personal brand at the expense of their credibility.

Being on an inane game show is pretty bad (isn’t it, Natalie Morales?), but depending on who you ask, there have been worse publicity stunts pulled in the name of attention-grabbing.

In June, AP’s Rich Matthews went scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico to show the extent of the BP oil spill damage — sans protective gear. He got a good story out of it, but he may have risked his health for it. Was it really worth it? Was it necessary, or was it done simply for the “look at me” value?

More recently, there’s been WikiLeaks. While the website and Julian Assange seem to have plenty of support, there are those who label it a “cheap publicity stunt.”

Many factors contributed to the current news culture, and since it’s here to stay, presumably so is the practice of one-upsmanship we’ve been seeing. Journalists will learn which attention-grabbing practices add to their stories and which are just publicity stunts through trial and error, but their audience may end up seeing a lot of dumb stuff before that process is over.

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 | November 30, 2010

What do you “meme” journalists are on the Internet?

If there’s one aspect of online pop culture you can’t ignore, it’s Internet memes. Really, you can’t ignore them; they creep into your brain and take over all your thoughts. Don’t believe it? How many people do you know have ever abused English to the point of saying, “OM NOM NOM NOM. OH HAI. I eated ur foodz.”

By the way, lolcats are No. 1 on this list of Top 10 Internet Memes.

It seems being the focus of an Internet meme is a sure-fire way to be immortalized in pop culture. And now it’s journalists’ turn.

OK, so those are really 404 error pages, but they sure could pass for memes. They’re from Storify, a website that helps news organizations build stories from social media posts. Each one hilariously represents the failure to find a requested page with a famous journalistic failure: Dewey defeats Truman, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Janet Cooke or Judith Miller. (Those are all I came up with after refreshing the page for several minutes.)

They may not be as popular as Rickrolling or Sparta, but journalists are now represented among the inane pop culture trends morphed by the Internet.

Posted by: mbtrotter | November 22, 2010

The Simpsons gets Fox News good. Really good.

If you haven’t heard yet, Fox News (and a lot of news outlets) got absolutely trashed by The Simpsons last night. The show has parodied Fox News before, but frankly, I’m surprised the show was allowed to go as far as it did putting down a component of the same company. That’s not to say, however, that it was untrue.

There’s a lot to take in, in that two-minute clip, so let’s break it down into two categories to deal with: Fox News’ bias/racism and the way news media can take stories too far.

Is Fox News really biased?

Yes, and seemingly more than any other news source. That link is nine years old, which isn’t fair, so here’s some more recent examples of Fox News being unbalanced:

  • July 2010 — Fox News programming objects to President Barack Obama using NASA to foster relations with Muslim nations and the increasing number of mosques in America. Jon Stewart calls them on it, as well as ABC.
  • July 2010 — NewsOne writer Casey Gane-McCalla points out several stories where Fox News has allegedly created racist scandals.
  • August 2010 — Dr. Laura Schlessinger uses the “n-word” 11 times on her show. ThinkProgress reports Fox News didn’t cover it at all, while CNN and MSNBC did.
  • October 2010 — NPR fires Juan Williams for saying on The O’Reilly Factor he gets “worried” and “nervous” when he gets on a plane and sees people dressed in Muslim clothing. The next day, Fox News gave Williams a $2 million contract.
  • November 2010 — OK, just watch Stewart make fools of everyone at Fox News again, 3:05 into this clip. (Fox News needs some of those Daily Show fact checkers.)

Suffice it to say that calling Fox News biased — even racist — isn’t a stretch. Whether it’s meant to be that way, is that way due to an agenda or is just that way because of laziness doesn’t matter.

Do news outlets make up stories?

Making things up is a strong accusation, although it has happened. What that part of the clip points to, I believe, is overhyping stories, which is definitely common.

Sometimes it’s the result of jumping on hot leads without confirming them, which has happened several times with tips on Twitter. Other times there are several factors, as seen in MSNBC’s First Read list of 2000–2009’s Top 10 overhyped stories.

But, as the clip alluded to, the overhyped story is more common in health-related news. Popular Science has a great list of misleading stories on real scientific studies, some reported by major news organizations. Or, you can check out 2000–2010’s more general overhyped health stories. Remember all of those? How much does any one matter now?

Kudos to the staff at The Simpsons for really stepping up their game this season. From Banksy’s provocative couch gag to last night’s blasting of Fox News, this has been one of the sharpest and zeitgeist-aware seasons ever.

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.

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