I’m part way through an online conversation with Dave, who I like, about hyperbolic opinion pieces masquerading as news (what I call the Glenn Beck/Fox News effect). We’re discussing Dave’s frustration with the “blur” between news and opinion. Dave said:
I wouldn’t mind if the media did genuinely report as an opinion piece. At least you’d know where you stood with them then. Now we have media hyping things up purely to suit their own promotional interests and if people aren’t alternatively informed about the issue in question, they have no idea what is really going on. News has become entertainment.
To which I say, you’re in danger of demonising a generalisation, Dave, like “they” should do something about that, “the gummint” should stamp out litter, or “this is a Christian country” …
“The media” is an indefinable entity made up of individuals chasing “success” (in my view) — motivated by myriad things, but mostly, in my observation, a desire for relevance (“notice me, listen to me, respect me!!”) There’s a commercial, competitive element too, which cannot be ignored.
From a background as a political journalist, I worked as part of a very small team that produced a top rating (i.e.#1) radio news show in Auckland for 5 years. It was #1 when I arrived and #1 when I left. (whew!)
I know the pressures we felt to “rate” — to keep our precarious position at the top of the greasy pole. I also know something of the efforts our competitors made to knock us off (in both senses: copy & displace) and their frustration at not being able to do so.
Our #1 spot (not the only one held by shows at the station, I hasten to add) was worth a great deal of money in advertising revenue to the station, actually to the network. In a quick decision world, it was easy for advertisers and agencies to decide to place their budgets with our station — being #1 in the ‘key demographics’ meant we had an attractive audience.
But we weren’t whores. We wouldn’t do ANYTHING for the ratings. The pursuit of audience share didn’t see us jettison our integrity, as you suggested about “the media” earlier, nor the news journalism standards we’d all built through our careers.
No, that’s not the “game” we talked about.
We aimed to be authoritative, relevant, connected to the right people/newsmakers. It was a privilege (I mean it) to routinely talk to statesmen, academics, fellow journalists and people in the news all over the world — often at key times in ‘history’ and often about matters of great interest to us.
Did we seek sensationalism at times? Sure, if the story was sensational.
Do we have opinions? You betcha. Did we express them sometimes? Yes, in editorials and also, let’s be fair, in the tenor of some of the interviews — not being as bombastic as some but sometimes pressing a point, failing to be deflected from a line of questioning.
DID WE HAVE A LAW REFORM AGENDA … as some “media” people you complain about seem to?
And in the context of our discussion, that’s a big distinction, in my view. Declaring such an agenda is like crossing the Rubicon.
Isn’t Bernard Hickey’s blog (which got us talking about this in the first place) just an opinion piece?
Isn’t that — surely — how most people see it?
He’s seen as pushing for law change — seeking to squash down what he sees as unfairly favoured investors and landlords. But it IS just opinion, isn’t it?
Last thought (for now, anyway):
Just because there’s a demand for crap, it doesn’t mean you have to supply it.
In recent times, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart has done more to expose the venal side of ‘ratings-driven’ media than most. His interview/inquisition of CNBC’s ‘Mad Money Show’ host Jim Cramer is beyond superlatives. If you haven’t already, watch the “extended interviews” here at TheDailyShow.com
This was the line in the ‘interview’ that stuck out for me…
2. At one point, Stewart asked Cramer why CNBC aired these financial entertainment programs with their gung-ho stock-buying emphasis. Cramer’s response was shocking when he said: “There is a market for that, and we give it to them.” Stewart’s rejoinder was, “There’s a market for hookers and cocaine, too.”
Let’s keep talking. – P