Friday, February 07, 2003

One Hand Zapping: How You Are Changing Television News and Why You Should Care

CBS News President Andrew Heyward came to Yale yesterday to deliver a lecture about the state of TV News Media. He pretty much covered all of my concerns: news networks are owned by large corporations; news networks have been expected to turn a profit since the 80s; in the “zero sum game” of 24 hour news there is a tendency toward “sensationalism” and “hype”. Interestingly, we have very different solutions. Heyward believes that public integrity and the competition of the free market will lead to quality programming over time. I say that those same factors will lead to a glut of mediocre programming ala reality tv-esque news (as cheaply produced as possible).

Heyward’s thesis is that much of the news broadcast today is interchangeable. In the world where the picture makes the story, everyone’s pretty much got the same pictures and, consequently, the same story. He foresees a “nichification” of news (and points to Fox as a successful example), where news is crafted with a smaller audience in mind (the good ‘ole “audience of one”). He also predicts a movement away from “generic news” into more investigative reporting and magazine-style programming in order to get consumers to stick with one provider (in his case CBS).

The topic of youth and media, a perennial favorite, brought up the term “grazers”. According to Heyward, kids today are Internet savvy, anti-authoritarian, and tend to pick up their news through satire (such as SNL and Carson Daly). The “MTV generation” wants news (if they want it) when they want. Like immediately. Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite imparting his wisdom to American households every night. Kids today identify more with the Craig Kilborns of the world, and these guys are poised to be the next news anchors.

Now on to the Q&A. The first question comes from a guy asking about coverage of the anti-war protests. The second comes from a man who holds up two books (Bias and Slander!) and asks Andrew Heyward if he has read either one. To which Heyward responds, “No” and proceeds to go on to describe them as right-wing ideologues pandering to a certain type of audience (ah hem, the one that watches Fox News). One of my largest fears since the rapid rise of Fox on the cable news circuit is a tilt to the right of the major networks. I must say, if the President of CBS News has such a disdainful view of the FNC (“if you put talk radio and news together you get the Fox News Channel”), it makes me feel a heck of a lot better. Not great, but better.

People also asked about campaign coverage, and Heyward stated that he thought political commercials were really hurting the election process, although it was up to Congress to solve the problem through legislation, not the networks. Afterward, I suggested the proposal offered by Robert McChesney to allow candidate #2 a free 30 second spot for rebuttal right after the (paid) spot of candidate #1. He said it sounded interesting, although I am not quite sure he picked up on the free part. I think that if CBS really wants to brand itself as a “trusted news network”, taking steps like offering a campaign reform plan within their organization (in terms of political advertising) would go really far toward creating that air of being “fair and balanced”. And if one guys does it, in the zero-sum game of news, everyone else will follow.


Post a Comment

<< Home