A Devastating Critique Of TV News

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John Hockenberry gives an insider account of how American TV network news has earned its place as information source of last resort.

“You Don’t Understand Our Audience”
What I learned about network television at Dateline NBC.

A few points:

In the spring of 2005, after working in television news for 12 years, I was jettisoned from NBC News in one of the company’s downsizings. The work that I and others at Dateline NBC had done–to explore how the Internet might create new opportunities for storytelling, new audiences, and exciting new mechanisms for the creation of journalism–had come to naught. After years of timid experiments, NBC News tacitly declared that it wasn’t interested. The culmination of Dateline‘s Internet journalism strategy was the highly rated pile of programming debris called To Catch a Predator. The TCAP formula is to post offers of sex with minors on the Internet and see whether anybody responds. Dateline‘s notion of New Media was the technological equivalent of etching “For a good time call Sally” on a men’s room stall and waiting with cameras to see if anybody copied down the number.

And:

In the years since my departure from network television, I have acquired a certain detachment about how an institution so central to American culture could shift so quickly to the margins. Going from being a correspondent at Dateline–a rich source of material for The Daily Show–to working at the MIT Media Lab, where most students have no interest in or even knowledge of traditional networks, was a shock. It has given me some hard-won wisdom about the future of journalism, but it is still a mystery to me why television news remains so dissatisfying, so superficial, and so irrelevant. Disappointed veterans like Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather blame the moral failure of ratings-obsessed executives, but it’s not that simple. I can say with confidence that Murrow would be outraged not so much by the networks’ greed (Murrow was one of the first news personalities to hire a talent agent) as by the missed opportunity to use technology to help create a nation of engaged citizens bent on preserving their freedom and their connections to the broader world.

And an insightful bit about that non-genius and one of my favorite dinosaurs to whip, Jeff Zucker:

Something about Zucker’s physical presence and bluster made him seem like a toy action figure from The Simpsons or The Sopranos. I imagined that he could go back to his office and pull mysterious levers that opened the floodgates to pent-up advertisements and beam them to millions of households. Realistically, though, here was a man who had benefited from the timing of September 11 and also had the power to make it go away. In a cheap sort of way it was delirious to be in his presence.

American broadcast television was supposed to “serve the public interest.”

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Explore posts in the same categories: C.O.A.T. - TV

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