Saturday, October 15, 2005

Media? What Media?

I know, I know. I've been very lax in updating the blog lately, and for that I apologize. Honestly, I'm amazed to hear that anyone actually noticed - slash - reads this thing on anything more than a "oh look, he updated his blog three weeks ago and I haven't read the newest one" basis, but for those who actually do pay some attention, I apologize. I certainly didn't expect to get contacted by someone saying I should update my blog.
And granted, I have updated it a few times lately, but with mostly filler - the type of crap that I normally abhor - simply so that I could maintain some semblence of being current without taking the time to write anything new and inspiring. (Or depressing, more likely.) I could make all sorts of excuses about what's been going on with my life lately, but you and I both know that you'd just skim through the BS and not really care. So I won't bother.

So with that, let's get to the good stuff.

Here's an interesting note on the state of the American media. Highly personal, anecdotal evidence, and it shouldn't be taken as anything more than that, but... does anyone else find them in the same position I seem to be in lately, where you're only reading secondary sources and ignoring the actual "news media"? Hell, I read Ted Rall (www.tedrall.com) and Tom Tomorrow more than I flip over to CNN.com, I think.
Why is this occurring? Well, if you want to be flippant, you can say it's the same reason why I haven't made a good update recently - because I'm lazy. But I beg to differ with you on that. (Keep in mind you're reading what is, at best, a secondary source right now, if not a tertiary one.) I think perhaps the problem is that we're all agitated with the ridiculous number of filler stories coming from the major media outlets right now. A few years back - quite a few, at this point - someone had the brilliant idea of creating an entire news network that would report on stories 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The idea was sound - there's a lot of news out there, and it's hard to cover all the important things in only an hour a day, or an hour a week, whatever any specific program allows. Yet after being overwhelmed by the upsurge in 24/7 reporting, more and more viewers are turning to exactly those programs - the hour a week reports on PBS, the hour a night on Dateline, whatever it happens to be. They turn to these things for something a little more in-depth, something with a little more detail and a little less filler, than they see on the 24 hour networks.
Is this the definition of irony, or what? A 24 hour network provides time for 24 daily one-hour programs, each of which might tackle a specific issue in depth. They've all got their own biases, they're own editorial slants, and as much as we all bitch about those -- let them have it. I read the New York Times regularly, and I know they're not unbiased. But for the love of fuck, don't try to dress it up as unbiased, and don't maintain such a shallow perspective that you can't provide some sort of arguments to support your position. Switch it around a bit -- go ahead with three, four, even five hours a day of the shallow shit, the 45 second bits about this or that bit of recent news. But use the rest of that time to accomplish something real. Get some reporters with balls, send them out to go in-depth, to uncover as much as they can.
I know a lot of people that want to make a career out of the news industry, but are disgusted with the way it's currently run. Well, think about this for a second -- there's tons of people that want to report the news, but can't get a position because of the cutthroat, one-man-anchor way it's currently run. And most of those people studying journalism are disgusted by that system. So hire some of these people, and have them do what they're clamoring to do - produce in-depth pieces on important events. Or even less important events, you've got enough of them to do that. Don't fly the same ten people all over the country to observe the top-breaking stories in the most trivial of manners. Don't spend 12 hours outside the courtroom where Michael Jackson is going to be arraigned and comment the whole time on how it's "a media circus" - divert that time and those resources to producing something people would be interested in seeing. Use it to be informative, to challenge people, or even to talk about a water-skiing squirrel for a full hour than just for 4 seconds of filler. Interview the fucking trainer for that oh-so-talented squirrel, ask him how he did it, see what other projects he's working on, ASK HIM WHAT THE FUCKING HORSEPOWER OF THE R/C BOAT IS! Just stop reporting the same superficial bullshit for 45 seconds every half hour.
Have you ever seen CNN Headline News?
CNN Headline News runs on a strictly 1/2 hour format, reporting the top stories of the previous half hour. They cover sports, weather, politics, national and international interest pieces, all in a half hour, and then they do it again. And again. Again. One more time. Hey, let's try something different -- haha, just kidding, do it again. WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?
Oh, and why don't they do it? Why will they never follow my sagely advice? Why will we never see this monumental shift in media attitude or system? Because of ratings! The all knowing power of ratings. They think the system they've got now is the one that'll get the best ratings, and scrabble for a 1.3 share.
Now, I could go on an ideological rant right now. I could say how the media has a greater obligation to the truth than it does to ratings, but of course that argument has been used before and has always proved futile. Media is a corporate, capitalist interest, and so they're going to go for market share, no matter what. PBS can be relied on for doing the real reporting, since they're the ones not concerned with market share, but when it comes to all the 24 hour networks, that argument is pointless. So I won't waste my breath.
Oh, don't worry, I haven't given up, though. Instead, I want to argue within this framework that's been layed forth. But to do that, I first need a little bit of audience participation. Don't worry, I'm not asking for a lung transplant, though hey Dr. Suess! knows I probably need one considering my chain-smoking, non-filtered style. No, instead, I just need you to answer one simple question:

Would you watch CNN more if you knew that every hour you would learn a lot about one thing, becoming informed and knowledgeable on that single topic with a minimum of effort?

God, I hope you said yes. If so, my whole argument is shot. It's pretty simple, though, don't you see? Rather than spouting the same shit over and over again all day long, and having people turn off after just half an hour, knowing the next half hour will be the same thing again, wouldn't it make more sense to provide some in-depth reporting that would peak interest? We all saw how sitcoms took a nose-dive in popularity in the late 90s, to be replaced by The West Wing and CSI. Aren't the most lauded, most watched fictional shows on TV the one-hour dramas? Aren't they the ones that have the most loyal fan base? Doesn't the Sopranos trounce My Three Dads in ratings?
So why not try it? Why not go a little in-depth? Why not provide something more? If other types of programming are any indication, you'll actually see your market share grow considerably, right?

Remember when you were a kid, and there were those Saturday morning programs that you loved? Remember how you'd watch the cartoons with the superheroes and the simplistic plotlines, the story archs that never really arched all that much and were always the same? Remember how later on they'd put on that educational programming and you'd go outside and play instead of watching it?
Well, I'M NOT A FUCKING KID ANYMORE. I don't need simple plots, superficial stories, repetition, and fantasy. What I desire instead is depth, intensity, truth, and uniqueness. What I want is something closer to the not-so-black-and-white-as-you-fucking-tell-me reality that I see everyday, that I live with all the time. That's what I'm looking for, and although I may be on the margins in a lot of things, I actually do believe that most Americans would jump on that type of programming if they were offered it by the mainstream. Just look at CSI.
Oh, and keep this in mind, if by some strange twist of circumstance my advice is ever actually heeded: The West Wing wasn't a hit the day it aired. It drew a loyal fanbase who spread the word to their friends and become a phenomenon only after word-of-mouth spread around the enticement. I know word-of-mouth is something that is harder to quantify than an advertising blitz, and takes longer, but give it time to develop and you'll see the fruit it bears.

Huh. Well, I had actually planned on hitting a few other topics tonight, but I see that this rant has gone on for quite a while. So I'll save those for next time. I'll try to be better with updating more often.

G'nite, kids.

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