I caught a bit of Bill Maher's latest episode of Real Time where the point was brought up that "Isn't the Internet supposed to be the next real news outlet, and isn't TV a dead medium? Who watches TV any more?" (Not an exact quote.) The commenter who said that (whose name I didn't catch) was trying to refute one of Maher's points about "the media" being the cause of the health care reform not doing so well lately. How could it be the fault of "the media" (which Maher defined as TV news programs) if everyone got their news online?
What they all managed to miss, though, was that Americans, by and large, aren't looking for news in the first place. They're looking for pundits to provide their selective spin on news. There've been plenty of anecdotal stories of 20-somethings getting most of their news from Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. And it's easy to tag Stewart and Colbert, but in that sense they're no different than Rachel Maddow and Larry King and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Wolf Blitzer and every other "newsman" with their own show.
CNN's programming scehdule reflects this perfectly. It's an allegedly all-news channel, but almost every hour is dedicated to a specific personality putting their spin on what's going on in the world. Limbaugh and Stewart are doing the exact same thing, just with a different tone. Heck, even your local news program is sold as "the news at 5 with Mark Allan and Michelle Kingsfield." It's not about WHAT they're reporting so much as WHO is doing the reporting.
With that in mind, how many real news programs are left out there? All I can think of as possibilities are NPR (which is radio in the first place and partially subsidized by the government in the second), BBC (which is paid for with tax money) and newspapers (which a different medium in the first place and are collapsing in the second).
Now let's turn to comic books. What do we find? The Justice League by Dwayne McDuffie. Captain America by Ed Brubaker. Comics figured out back in the 1970s that they really need to sell the personalities behind the comics, not just the comics themselves. It wasn't "The Fourth World" after all, it was "JACK KIRBY'S Fourth World." Sell the CREATOR, not the CREATION.
But when we turn over to newspapers, we find The Washington Post. The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Chicago Tribune. The New York Times. By and large, they sell the news by may-as-well-be-anonymous writers/reporters. Sure, there's some Bob Woodwards and Carl Bernsteins out there, but their names are not used to sell papers. Newspapers have sold "the news" and that's it.
There's nothing wrong with selling just "the news" except that not nearly enough people want just "the news" to make a viable/sustainable for-profit company. People at large have told and continue to tell media outlets that they want "news filtered through the lens of someone more expert than me whose biases I share and whose attitude I appreciate." Which leads to comedians like Colbert, Stewart and Maher becoming newsmen to large swaths of the population.
Keep in mind that I'm not passing judgment on any of these individuals. Nor am I passing judgment on how they choose to sell their version of the news to a responsive audience. As I said, it's what people are telling media companies they want to hear. But it's clear that newspapers aren't listening, and refuse to do anything different than what they've been doing for the past century. People don't want "the news" and that's pretty much all newspapers have to offer.
Newspapers are screwing up all sorts of other ways, too, but the revelation that there's yet this other thing they're completely ignoring struck me this morning.
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