Category Archives: CNN

News comes from far away. . .

By Christopher B. Daly

Do we get too much information about distant conflicts, or too little?

The New York Times offers two very different answers.

One comes from Anjan Sundaram, a former stringer for The Associated Press in Congo. So, he should know. He laments the withdrawal of American correspondents from many countries, the shuttering of overseas bureaus, and a general decline in the coverage of wars, violence, and the politics of many nations.

News organizations need to work more closely with stringers. Make no mistake: Life as a stringer, even for those eager to report from abroad, is daunting. It’s dangerous, the pay is low and there is little support. For years after I left Congo, my position with The A.P. remained — as it is now — vacant. The news from Congo suffers as a result, as does our understanding of that country, and ultimately ourselves.

The other view comes from my Boston University colleague David Carr, the Times‘ media columnist. In his Media Equation piece today, Carr describes the sensation of information-overload that he has been experiencing lately as social media bring him a flood of data about a rocket war in Gaza, plane crashes, and the other disasters.

Geopolitics and the ubiquity of social media have made the world a smaller, seemingly gorier place. If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.

In my view, they are both right, at least to a degree. Sundaram is correct that many U.S. news organizations have retreated (usually for economic reasons) from their commitment to covering international news. In particular, they have lost the budgets to pay for keeping full-time staffers in locations around the world that are not boiling over. I’m talking here about trained journalists who have the time to become multi-lingual, to learn about other cultures and societies, to develop good sources, and to roam about developing a good first-hand sense of the place they are covering. These are the kind of people you want to be able to in a crisis, to explain a self-immolation in Tibet, or a riot in Indonesia, or a drug war in Central America. And, yes, there are too few of those.

But that’s not the same issue David Carr was identifying. He is describing the flood of images, information, and opinions that come streaming at Americans from the hotspot of the week. And yes, he’s right about. In a country or region that America is paying attention to, the flow of news is usually pretty abundant. That doesn’t mean that it’s always very useful, only that there is a lot of it.

This general problem was identified almost a century ago by Walter Lippmann — journalist, author, and media theorist — in his landmark book about journalism, propaganda, and politics, Public Opinion.

News comes from a distance; it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable imgresconfusion; it deals with matters that are not easily understood; it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them.

That is, for passive news consumers, the picture of the rest of the world is fragmentary, random, and often blurred or blacked out. I dare say that I am not the only avid consumer of U.S. news reporting who could not tell you a single meaningful thing about Indonesia (the fourth most populous country on Earth and the largest Muslim-majority nation). I don’t know anything about it, because no U.S. news organization has a single full-time correspondent there. I cannot say I am bombarded by social media (or any other kind) about Indonesia. But if something should happen there that draws the attention of the United States, we can be sure the firehose will be turned on, and we will start to absorb a torrent of images, facts, and opinions. Until our attention shifts.

Thurber-Lippmann screenshot

by James Thurber

 

 

 

 

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A pox on “A pox on both their houses”

By Christopher B. Daly 

I spend a lot of my waking hours at the intersection of Journalism and History, two empirical fields that share a lot of DNA. It’s an interesting place to hang out, and I wish more of the residents of each street would roam around more on the other street.

Today, a story in TPM about an item on a blog known as the 20Committee, nicely frames an issue that highlights one of the distinctions between the disciplines of journalism and history. The upshot is that journalists do us all a disservice when, in the name of non-partisanship or “fairness,” they throw up their hands and blame Democrats and Republicans equally for behaving in ways that are partisan, counter-productive, hypocritical or the like. As a former political journalist myself, I know this phenomenon well, and I know where it comes from: it is an adaptation to the pressure many American journalists feel to write as if they have no stake in the outcome, to show an aloof indifference to cause or candidate or party.

Many journalists, particularly in the mainstream media who work in the reporting tradition, apply this technique to coverage of hard problems like Obamacare or fracking or political spending. This is the problem often referred to as “false equivalence” or “false balance.”

But, I would submit, no historian who studies our current period in the future would be caught dead doing that. Every historian of our present situation will look at essentially the same facts and will exercise judgment.

[I will further predict that 95 percent of them will conclude that our current messes are the fault of Republicans. But, to use another favorite journalistic evasion, Only time will tell.]

Shutterstock/ Christos Georghiou

Shutterstock/
Christos Georghiou

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Life magazines move downtown

By Christopher B. Daly

I guess the party’s really over. Time Inc., the once phenomenally profitable publishing empire founded by Henry Luce (and Briton Hadden) in 1923, is considering a move out of its landmark skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. According to today’s NYTimes, Time Inc., the company that publishes TIME, SI, People and many other magazines, is heading downtown — way downtown, to 225 Liberty St., a building just west of the site of the new Liberty Tower and the memorials to the fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

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In its heyday, of course, Time Inc. was a powerhouse of profit, prestige, and political heft, as I wrote about in my book Covering America. After outgrowing its space in the original Rockefeller Center, Time Inc. was offered its own building across 6th Avenue. In 1959, Rockefeller Center expanded to the west side of the avenue with a building erected just for Time Inc., known as the Time & Life Building, at 1271 6th Ave. Here’s a version by Dan Okrent, from his book Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. (Fun Fact: Dan was hired by Time Inc. in the 1990s to bring the company’s portfolio of magazines online, but that’s another story.)

What [architect Wallace Harrison] did deserve credit for was what Vincent Scully called the “incoherent splatter of skyscrapers” marching down the west side of Sixth Avenue. This western expansion of Rockefeller Center began with Harrison’s new Time & Life Building in 1959 and degenerated from there, a row of marble megaliths that seemed informed less by the doctrines of the International Style than by some for of totalitarian nightmare. . .(427)

One of Time Inc.’s neighbors in recent years has been News Corp, which occupies its own totalitarian megalith just south of the Time & Life Building. Other neighbors: NBC, CBS, CNN, and (until a few years ago) The AP.

I wonder who will be next to bail out from midtown?

Time & Life Building Photo by Richard Drew/AP

Time & Life Building
Photo by Richard Drew/AP

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Roger Ailes revisited

By Christopher B. Daly 

With the release of Gabriel Sherman’s new book about Fox News boss Roger Ailes, there is a lot of commentary about Ailes.

Here’s David Carr. Here’s TNR.

Amid all the commentary and analysis, it’s important to keep some sense of perspective. Fox News reaches a maximum of about 3 million different Americans in a typical day. That’s less than 1% of the population. And the ratings for Fox News are no longer climbing; they appear to have topped out. Not only that, but the Fox News audience is considerably older than the ideal “demographic” for television viewing. (Not to mention that the Fox News audience is whiter than average and much more conservative.)

In other words, it’s unlikely that Roger Ailes is the king-maker in national politics that he would like to be (and to be seen as). More and more, it appears that his television channel preaches to the (aging) choir.

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Can journalism get by without advertisers?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Why should journalism depend on advertising? There is nothing logical, necessary or inevitable about it.

Originally, advertising was a trivial source of income for 18th Century newspapers. Instead, readers supported those newspapers by subscribing for fixed (and pretty lengthy) periods. there were few if any newsstand sales. That model worked for more than a century.

It was only in the 19th Century that newspaper publishers began seeking and relying on advertising revenues. This coincided with an explosion of spending on ads, so there was plenty of money sloshing around to allow newspapers to expand. By the end of the 19th Century, many newspapers derived half or more of all their revenues from ads.

When broadcasting came along in the 20th Century, most radio and television operations could not find a way to get their audience to pay, so they became almost completely dependent on advertising income. (NPR and PBS are exceptions; they depend on a shifting mix of foundation grants, “sponsors,” a shrinking direct government subsidy, and the direct financial support of “viewers (and listeners) like you.”)

There, in broad strokes, is a big part of the current existential crisis facing all the “legacy” media with a foot in the pre-digital past. They arose under a set of conditions that no longer exist. Advertisers have reduced their spending overall, and they have reallocated the remaining ad buy so that they can buy a growing amount of space online. They are not coming back to print or broadcasting.

So, if advertisers cannot be depended on to fund journalism, who’s left?

One answer is pointed to by David Carr in his column today. Ostensibly, his column is about HBO and the success of such tv “auteurs” as the creators of The Sopranos and The Wire. Carr observes that HBO never depended on ads, so HBO’s executives never had to worry about what kind of programming advertisers would accept. Instead, the only constituency they had to please was viewers, who flocked to the better (if violent) programs. It was a case of “viewers to the rescue.”

From Carr’s column:

As it turned out, what had been holding television back was not the audiences, but the advertisers. HBO, freed of those bonds as a pay TV service, bet on a show about a fat, conflicted gangster who spent time in a shrink’s office when he wasn’t ordering up murders from the back of a strip club called the Bada Bing.

HBO had figured out that the strategy followed by broadcast networks — trying to please all of the people at least part of the time — was a losing formula for a pay service. Instead it began producing remarkable programming for a discrete audience that would pay a premium for quality. That audience has ballooned to some 30 million viewers and turned HBO into an A.T.M. for Time Warner, a lesson that was not lost on other cable channels. This revolution will continue to be televised.

In cable TV, unlike traditional broadcasting, money comes from “subscribers” — i.e., you and me and everyone else who overpays Comcast or Verizon or some other cable provider. All our monthly bills go into a giant pot, and cable providers turn around and dole it out to the suppliers of programming — X for ESPN, Y for all the NBC properties, Z for Fox, and so on. The details are the result of negotiations based mainly on who’s hot and who is bringing in the biggest audience.

HBO is just one example of a model that could be used to pay for all sorts of creative and valuable original materials. Consider: if I buy a song on iTunes, there is no jingle that I have to listen to first (or in the middle!). If I buy a book, there’s no ad on page 178. In those markets, I expect to pay the full amount, without a  subsidy from advertisers.

Can the journalism that has been brought to us by newspapers, magazines, and television be funded without advertising?

Stay tuned.

 

 

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The bombing case: “Total Noise”?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Here is a fine piece that features the author Jim Gleick thinking in print about the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and related events. (Full disclosure: I have known Jim since we were in college together, and I admired his books Chaos and The Information; I am not currently in touch with him.)

Gleick’s piece from New York magazine was also noticed by Maureen Dowd in her column today. She added value by actually taking him out for coffee and interviewing him.

Photo montage by New York magazine (including photo by BU student journalism Kenshin Okubo).

Photo montage by New York magazine (including photo by BU student journalism Kenshin Okubo).

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CNN gets it wrong

By Christopher B. Daly 

In his column in today’s New York Times, David Carr analyzes CNN’s self-inflicted wound caused by wrongly reporting the arrest of a suspect in the Marathon bombing case. In doing so, Carr makes some of the same points I made here last week in this post. The problem is how to gather news while the public is watching.

There’s no real answer, of course, except for everyone to do better.

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