I think the one thing we can agree on about the Petraeus scandal is that it’s hilarious: anonymous Gmail address, FBI agent who sent shirtless photos of himself to Jill Kelley, whom Paula Broadwell apparently sent threatening e-mails to (which started the FBI investigation), and Gen. John Allen apparently sending tens of thousands of dodgy emails to Kelley.
Of course, there is all the double entendre now swept up in Broadwell and her book, but methinks a TV station should probably do a double check when grabbing the cover of All In off the interwebs. (Video here.)
On one hand I’d be less than honest if I said I was totally okay with being part of the problem with political journalism just by working in TV news, never mind my disgust with most ads run by said super-PACs and what it represents for democracy.
On the other hand, the smaller markets Dickinson writes about that see the biggest influx of super-PAC ads are the ones where television stations are laying off on-air talent, producers, desk editors, and studio crew members in the largest numbers — either merging newsrooms in “duopolies” or turning those small stations into mere feeder bureaus that produce 5-10 minutes a day of news tacked onto a newscast from the nearest market.
It’s hard to be absolutist about something you’d ordinarily despise when it keeps so many of the people you know employed and with health insurance.
If you have not watched the first episode of Aaron Sorkin’s new series and did not know about it being free to view on YouTube, go ahead and do so. There’s a good chance you’ll disagree with me, and I wanted to disagree with me because of all that bad reviews I’ve read of the show so far. I wanted to brush them off as media people slagging someone who’s basically skewering their entire approach to journalism, but the problem is that if Emily Nussbaum and Richard Lawson are sharing a similar tone about it with Jake Tapper, then there might be an issue. (Although it is funny to read Howard Kurtz savage it without a hint of irony.)
Unfortunately, the best part of the series premiere is the diatribe Jeff Daniels, playing ostensibly bland anchorman Will McAvoy, unleashes while on a panel at a Northwestern U seminar, which is what we all saw in the trailer, and aside from the glorious TV force that is Sam Waterston (playing a booze-soaked former Marine who is in charge of ACN’s news division) and a riveting final sequence once the actual news-gathering and show events get going, one is overwhelmed by the Sorkinese speeches and affectations that mar the minutes in between McAvoy’s YouTube moment and the coverage of Deepwater Horizon.
Sorkin’s problem is that the overarching idea here is a false nostalgia of sorts. I would call it naivete but that would be unfair to dismiss the obvious gripes Sorkin has with the current state of televised journalism, which is more than understandable. He’s chosen the wrong vessels to deliver it, though. While it’s nice to see Emily Mortimer again, her MacKenzie McHale seems like less of a character than a conscience for McAvoy. Hired by Waterston’s Charlie Skinner to be Will’s new exec producer, Mac is also Will’s ex. (This is the first of a couple annoying tropes.) Mac, after Will gives back $1 million a year in salary to fuck with her contract so he has power over her, appeals to Will’s vanity and nostalgia (as well as ours) by talking about taking back the responsibilities of the Fourth Estate, delivering a sermon in his office.
This as a subplot with Mac’s senior producer and comrade Jim develops, including Will’s departing EP (Don, positioned as status quo douchebag) and personal assistant or associate producer Maggie (whom Don has apparently been dating for four months and they’re haggling over meeting her parents.) Then the oil rig explodes, and the place feels alive and clicking, a newscast takes place with fun, snappy stuff (and a voice cameo by Jesse Eisenberg, because that’s how Sorkin and director Greg Mottola, who directed the actor in Adventureland, roll) as NewsNight gets out in front on the environmental disaster end before anyone else because of Jim’s sources.
Part of the show’s problem is that Sorkin decided to work with real things that happened rather than create some of his own. This makes it easier for him to expound upon how the coverage SHOULD have been instead of explain or satirize how journalistic coverage is shaped. It’s real, real easy to Monday morning quarterback TV news coverage two years after the fact; the difficulty for this series will be convincingly explaining why coverage is the way it is. Sorkin already has his answer. In his eagerness to club us with his big ideas, he’s forgotten a few things:
You have to show and tell. Sorkin is presuming we agree with him and dispensing with earning our rhetorical trust.
Conversely, while it may be fun to write such speeches about the Obligations, Death, and Revival of True Journalism — it’s really fucking dull to watch. Especially because the people most likely to watch this show already get the points Sorkin wants to make!
He’s in thrall to nostalgia of a shared understanding and American consensus. Considering the numerous people who were very much disenfranchised during this earlier “consensus,” it calls into question just how much, really, we put stock into the avuncular presences of Cronkite and Murrow. But the title credits will give a very good sense that Sorkin is wedded to that idea as credible.
Considering Sorkin wrote a movie about Facebook, it seems very, very odd that he would not realize that social media is a huge part of how people (ESPECIALLY PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS!) consume news! Waterston’s character is rambling at a web person in the newsroom to Tweet something about how wonderful off-the-cuff news programming is but his spiel doesn’t fit 140 characters. The only acknowledgement the new world of media gets is Dev Patel’s Neal, who writes the show’s blog but no one can remember his name, so they go for stereotypes. The reason why the “Great Man” is dead is because there are too many news sources to place all your trust in just one of them.
Seriously, no one in an actual newsroom speaks in that alternating flowing-yet-clipped way that Sorkin has many of them speak in, not normally or without a script.
Mac’s behavior with Will where she taunts him before the show is entirely and completely unprofessional. “From eight to nine, I own you” sounds nice, but that would get someone disciplined quickly.
I hope it gets better next week but all the reviews from people who got to watch four episodes say otherwise. Sorkin seems to have misjudged a series about a newsroom for a sermon about news rather than the stories of the people producing the news.
(And on a personal note, this really does not help one iota in explaining what people do in a newsroom to outsiders, but that’s really beside the point.)
A Cleveland TV station’s gone full Olbermann, imitating Countdown’s old Michael Jackson trial stand-by of “puppet theater” for re-enactments since the judge in a racketeering trial of a former county commissioner won’t allow cameras in the courtroom.
It is stunning yet not surprising to anyone who has followed the career of Mr. Olbermann (having been a fan since his local sports day at KCBS in L.A.; my mother worked there and I remember him being nothing but nice to visitors — which contrasted with his behavior toward management) that he is in the process of self-sabotage once again. It is both predictable and a bit sad, because he is extremely talented yet runs off the rails every time. He appears to be a man who thrives on conflict and feeling aggrieved at all times; if that party is not a political opponent, it becomes the hand that feeds him.
Brooks is a smart fellow, far as I can tell in the extent of my interactions with him, which involve a short stint as a freelancer for his site about four years ago. He spenta bitof timetweeting tonightabout his belief that a sports news network dedicated to reporting “proprietary” sports news as opposed handling event broadcasts (which is getting in bed with the folks you’re supposed to cover) is a money-maker on cable/satellite television — people will flock to it.
Sure, that sounds all well and good, but 24 hours a day of it without any other product? Will people really spend all day watching it? I fail to see where this becomes televisually compelling in any significant way to make any money — which is where the rubber really meets the road, because that’s where you determine advertising rates, pull with cable/satellite providers, etc. Broadcast rights are where you make it feasible. The problem comes with a network’s willingness to tear down the wall between journalism and event presentation.
Pointing to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski’s Twitter feed of NBA lockout negotiation updates in real time doesn’t help this one bit. Wojnarowski is working in an online paradigm where this type of content streaming works. It wouldn’t make for compelling television, or keep people on the channel for the period ESPN is able to keep people on its networks. The model for proprietary stories will be Yahoo’s stable of writers, and TV outlets will take it as they want or need it. It’s the repetition and amplification they’re good at.
Yes, there are audiences who would watch a sports news network that reported on the world of sports without having the weird conflict of broadcasting event coverage to deal with. But that network wouldn’t have enough content to fill its daily schedule at all. It would wind up emulating the highlight and yapper shows that already exist to a certain extent — that’s largely where cable news has gone anyway when it realized it couldn’t fill a full day and wanted to do it on the cheap.
With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal. Instead, it was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. out in front of the journalism pack. Their reporters managed to track down two mothers of boys Sandusky allegedly abused. And the paper had the leadership to write a front-page editorial calling for Penn State trustees to clean house. Meanwhile, the tone of the early ESPN coverage was spotty — sometimes getting it right, but more often seeming inappropriate. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon Tuesday that ESPN finally seemed consistently to ask the right questions and find the appropriate moral outrage. That’s 72 hours after the story first broke.
I actually think that ESPN (and just about everyone else) getting beat by the Harrisburg Patriot-News is a good thing. Stories like these and the coverage reporters do in these moments are justification for the continued existence and patronage of smaller papers, which are the first to feel the brunt of cutbacks in the media industry — meaning less local coverage of local government and institutions.
The reporter most out in front of this for said paper is Sara Ganim, who is the paper’s crime reporter — not necessarily a sports person. And therein lies the problem for ESPN, one the Poynter folks can’t really touch on here because it takes too long to unpack — but let’s give it a shot. ESPN may have the largest stable of sports journalists, but it’s safe to say the majority of its folks are likely not well versed in how to handle a story that involves sport but expands outside that arena. It is good at having its sports beat people head to pressers and such about the game, grab sources about a team’s preparation, etc., but it’s not well suited to investigating matters where sport becomes real, hard news with actual victims as opposed to winners and losers.
(It’s worth noting that during last night’s coverage that the people ESPN went to on the ground were mostly ABC News people, who were working on it for their platforms.)
Toss in the inevitable weirdness when you have to cover a bizarre and vile story out of a program whose sporting events you broadcast, and it’s no surprise Bristol was late. In short: Poynter shouldn’t be shocked that ESPN was slow on this, because the majority of the people working for the organization don’t appear to be wired to work on a story like this. Its initial response is geared toward what such a scandal means for this week’s game or the program in general, not toward the human end of things — which would suggest that it find the victims that Sara Ganim did. Large networks aren’t geared toward those local ties, and it doesn’t matter how many top-notch sports journalists you hire; people are more likely to talk to the local paper first.
This is why no one should let us behind-the-camera types on air for the newscast, as one morning show producer in Huntsville, Alabama had to do the weather when he forecaster had a very late (2 AM) sick call.
This dude is an EP for our sister station in Seattle, and I’d like to buy him a drink sometime because I agree with him that much — particularly on the bit on the bias of laziness. (Dude does need to copy edit his posts a little bit more before publishing.)
As someone who works on a show that starts at 4:30 am, color me less than surprised. There are a few words sprinkled in here that disturb my general optimism regarding my industry and the future of my career though, and I’d be remiss not to make note of them.
Three years after the business buckled under the weight of the advertising recession, the more popular stations in markets like St. Louis are adding newscasts and in some cases employees — though not as many as were dismissed during the downturn.
That’s problem #1. Problem #2 is the continued growth of what execs call “multimedia journalists” and everyone else calls “one-man bands.” Having someone able to shoot, edit and present a piece is nice, but there’s a lot of art and collaboration and quality removed from the equation without the division of labor, never mind the trouble of trying to cover breaking news with one-man bands.
Furthermore, there is this:
The Communications Workers of America union said last year that it had identified at least 25 local markets where such outsourcing agreements were in place, and criticized them for reducing journalistic competition and “the diversity of local voices in a community.”
In St. Louis, KSDK is now paid to produce two newscasts a day for KDNL, the city’s ABC affiliate, which is owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. KDNL had stopped producing its own newscasts nearly a decade ago; Ms. Beall characterized the work as a partnership.
Often you’ll see duopolies, maybe tri-opolies (is that the right word?) in some of the smallest markets. This is an unfortunate reality of the expense of running a news division, and probably more unfortunate for community journalism in and of itself — because for all the blather we get about the Interweb revolution, most of us still get our news from the old set. But it concerns me for two reasons:
St. Louis is not exactly a small market in terms of DMA size. It’s still in the upper 20s, and is actually higher than Portland.
This is the first time I’ve heard of a broadcast network affiliate in a Top 25 market producing news for an affiliate of a competing broadcast network. (in this case, NBC for an ABC station.)
So, in short: any talk of a “revival” is hiding or obscuring some disconcerting realities. Remember: don’t do this job if you’re in it for the money.