Monday, August 08, 2005

Things Aren't What They Used To Be

I knew that it would come, but it came as somewhat of a shock when the news broke of the death of ABC news anchor Peter Jennings.

Check out the official tribute site at ABC News.

Much of my observations I have already mentioned, as least as the future of the network news is concerned.

All three networks lost their evening news anchors this year: Tom Brokaw (NBC-retired), Dan Rather (CBS-said he retired, but probably asked to resign), and Peter Jennings (ABC-died).

Where are the networks going with their news divisions. As I have mentioned before, we all need to review Paddy Chaevsky's classic 1974 film Network. In this film, one of the central points is the conversion of the news division from the cornerstone and pride of the network into another arm of the entertainment division. In the earlier days of television, no matter how insipid the entertainment programming was, the networks always prized their news divisions as the jewel of the company. More than this, they saw that they were doing a service and serving a public trust to inform people and spread good news and reporting to every viewer. These were the days of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, days when you could actually count on television news to be accurate, reasonably well-written and possibly thought provoking.

Beyond this, the networks understood that the news did not have to be entertaining, and the viewers realized this too. It is an annoying tendency amongst Americans that they always want to be entertained and think that everything should be fun and easy. The news is neither of these things (if you care and you should). News is serious and can have global implications. Keeping yourself well-informed through conventional and alternative media is your responsibility as a citizen and a human being. If you don't, you don't have the right to complain when the unreality of your created world becomes invaded by the cold, keening sting of life on planet Earth.

What will happen? Well, there are two versions: what I want to happen and what will actually happen. First, my plan. Separate the job of reporter and anchor. Anchors should sit there in a nice suit and read the news. Reporters should be out in the field taking the pulse of the issues of the day. While they are at it, try being a little more critical in your reporting. Make politicos and other powerful forces afraid of you. Strike fear in the hearts of the likes of Scott McClelland who will dissemble and ignore your questions. Check your facts and never settle for easy answers. This will lend credibility and provide viewers with much food for thought and this, coupled with their other reading and consideration, should help people to think criticaly about the news content and the act of broadcasting it.

Now, what will really happen. This is simple because in a way, it is already happening. There will be no news on network television (FOX has never had national news), thus cutting those who cannot afford cable off from another source of information. The cable news networks will continue their attempt at a 24 hour news cycle, FOX leading the pack because people don't want to think too hard. It will become indistinguishable from the likes of Court TV in its sensationalism, talking heads of ineptitude, endless partisan shouting and the perversion of stories to fit their concurrent philosophies.

The worst part of all of this is that people will not care or not notice. People like things to be done to them rather than with their active participation. This is why no-one cares anymore. If it can't be pre-packaged, black-and-white with no ambiguity, then it will not sell ad time and should be eliminated.

We all need to shut up, do our homework and speak with a more informed voice with civility and reason for all.

If not, we are no different from these braying asses that call themselves journalists.

For shame.


Frema said...

As a person who gets the majority of her news from Entertainment Weekly and Yahoo!, I feel appropriately shamed.

Aaron Cynic said...

I think you're hitting the nail on the head with this one. Granted, the "masses" or what have you want more than just infotainment 24 hours a day. However, the heads of the major news companies, as well as anyone who is in government, don't want that. Power, especially corrupt power, thrives on apathy, feeds off of ignorance, and can only survive when people are as uninformed or misinformed as possible.

It's quite a challenge these days to actually keep informed, and it's definately not as sexy. After all, when you're finally off work, who wants to spend hours reading up on corruption, death, destruction, and the like? It's much easier to sit back and zone out to Fox's Saturday night craporama. Even if you are the type that does the best you can at staying informed, you've got to wade through the trash of the current media landscape, and that's no easy task either.

I think we're seeing a new trend in not only how news is reported, but also how it is consumed. Orwell definately had something right when he defined newspeak and its implications. We're starting to see that applied to real life situations now. The lexicon is getting smaller rather than larger, and words and definitions of situations are constantly being redefined to follow whatever party line they should. It not only takes time and effort, but also courage to challenge this.

I remember reading Greg Pallast's "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," and one thing he points out in it is how many threats (in the form of lawsuits, verbal threats, blackmail threats, etc) he recieves from any company or government he investigates. The correspondence is astounding. Many people, journalists or not, have a hard time dealing with that type of situation, and don't want to lay themselves on the line.

I think people have noticed and do care, but feel there is little they can do about it. The first step is what you've clearly stated, shutting up and doing our homework. But from there, we're going to need to do a better job of actually creating the type of world we want (be it in the media landscape or otherwise), instead of relying on someone else to do it.