Saturday, October 16

Moronic Convergence

You remember, perhaps, when some years ago the digerati talked about media convergence. I stupidly thought the issue was that traditional media merging with interactive media. As it turns out, the convergence was that news got taken over by entertainment.

It's been noted elsewhere that the way to think about Limbaugh, O'Reilly et.al. is as entertainers (O'Reilly said this of Limbaugh, if not himself). Stupid, annoying entertainers, but annoying is the idea — think commercials. So liberals have been recruiting comedians as their "commentators" (e.g., Al Franken).

When you think about it, the end of TV journalism was an inevitable consequence of deregulation. If the airwaves aren't a resource to be administered as a public trust, then spectrum licensees have no responsibilities to other than their stockholders. Since broadcasters have to find audiences which are, how do you say it, broad, they have use their asset (airtime) to best effect. And, as George Guilder once observed, the only thing we all have in common are our purient interests. QED.

Not that TV journalism was so wonderful in the golden age: self-satisfied, simplistic, biased to the established view. But it was journalism, at least sometimes.

Now for the obligatory compelling link — that's what blog posts are about, right? OK. Many people seem to prefer The Daily Show as their news source (me too), but the really funny part is that the only guy who seems to believe that there could be such a thing as responsible TV news is John Stewart.

There's a nice piece on Media Matters (itself a nice website) which has the transcript and video of Stewart on Crossfire Friday. Stewart is chastising his hosts (Carlson and Begala) for their degraded state, and their defense is tbat he's a pretty poor newsman himself:

CARLSON: When politicians come on...

It's nice to get them to try and answer the
question. And in order to do that, we try
and ask them pointed questions. I want to
contrast our questions with some questions
you asked John Kerry recently.
STEWART: If you want to compare your show to
a comedy show, you're more than welcome to.
CARLSON: No, no, no, here's the point.
STEWART: If that's your goal.
CARLSON: It's not.
STEWART: I wouldn't aim for us. I'd aim for
"Seinfeld." That's a very good show.
[...]
CARLSON: You had John Kerry on your show and
you sniff his throne and you're accusing us
of partisan hackery?
STEWART: Absolutely.
CARLSON: You've got to be kidding me. He
comes on...
STEWART: You're on CNN. The show that leads
into me is puppets making crank phone calls.

I can't even stomach The News Hour anymore. I used to joke that if there was a serial killer on the loose, they'd have a panel with three guys: one who thought that serial killing was an unmitigated evil, another who thought that serial killers had gotten a bad rap, and a third guy who hadn't quite made up his mind.

More realistically, a panel commenting on a creationism story would have one scientist speaking up for evolution, one for creationism, and a historian who is neutral on the subject. This composition would be OK with me if there were nine thousand and two people on the panel: 9000 scientists for evolution balancing the other two guys.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not certain I buy this theory. Print media isn't regulated to any significant extent and aasn't been for years and yet we still have the NYT, WaPo, Economist etc. How do you account for that?

AMS said...

I think that's a fair question, but there is an answer. The less variety a medium permits (because of economics), the more a publisher (broadcaster) will extract rent from his "slot" rather than get paid for content.

This theory predicts that a publisher with relatively more turf (spectrum, newstand coverage, subscribers) will be relatively more willing to serve as a channel for material sourced by others. Confirming data includes Reader's Digest, Monday Night Football and Time Magazine publishing exerpts from prospective best-sellers.

Rabbi Jonathan B. Freirich said...

Allan, on this we entirely agree - but then again, Jon Stewart is one of my heroes (you can actually watch that interview at the ifilm site: http://www.ifilm.com/filmdetail?ifilmid=2652831&htv=12).

Print media is actually no real exception. Every newspaper has a target audience, the politics of which they are aiming for. I love the NYTimes, but it's not because I disagree with it. I tolerate the WSJ, but it's not because I love what they say. Which would I buy? The NYTimes, hands down.