Thursday, January 10, 2008

News for the stupid

In the 2004 elections we were silently complaining about the race horse / cockfight mentality of news media. The focus was not on the issues or qualifications but statistics: how many votes did each candidate expect to get? It was lazy journalism at best, giving people what is easy to understand without delving into plans and proposed programs.

Roco pledged to outlaw contractualization, which should've been covered (by Businessworld at least) but was relegated instead to inside pages. The money shot during that "covenant with the urban poor" event we cooked up was Roco playing billiards with squatter teens.

Cool pic, but they totally missed the point we wanted to make.

Today the media is no better, and it's not just local. John Hockenberry's article in Technology Review on network news recalls how he fought to cover news that was, well, news post-9/11 only to be chided (ironically) for missing the point.

... I had been in Corvo's office to propose a series of stories about al-Qaeda, which was just emerging as a suspect in the attacks. While well known in security circles and among journalists who tried to cover international Islamist movements, al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization and a story line was still obscure in the early days after September 11. It had occurred to me and a number of other journalists that a core mission of NBC News would now be to explain, even belatedly, the origins and significance of these organizations. But Zucker insisted that Dateline stay focused on the firefighters. The story of firefighters trapped in the crumbling towers, Zucker said, was the emotional center of this whole event. Corvo enthusiastically agreed.

Like our local news reports, the focus is on telling a story. Which is fine if you're writing a television show, not when you're trying to practice journalism. The article goes on to show how clueless US networks are regarding technology and focusing on lowest common denominator stuff like "To Catch a Predator" instead of following up on the Nigerian scam sting or porn spammers.

Local news is bereft of analysis and relevance. The Quiapo fiesta yesterday could've been the source of so many interesting leads but the major reports are all about the crowds and the devotees. They could've just pointed a camera at the crowd sans commentary and ended up with the same amount of information.

Where are the obtuse angles? Devotees preparing their kids to take their place risking life and limb for the chance to carry a statue is child abuse. Grown men who philander and spend all day scratching their balls (and all night drinking) while their wives and kids work make a sacrifice once a year and think that their god looks favorably on them. Where's the statement by the Church saying that real grace comes from faith and good works and not from a face towel rubbed against a statue?

It's all money shots without insight. Like the glaring difference between something like "Lust... Caution" and gonzo porn.

But the depressing similarity is with the editorial choice dictated by corporate needs. Hockenberry writes:

In 2003, I was told that a story on the emergence from prison of a former member of the Weather Underground, whose son had graduated from Yale University and won a Rhodes Scholarship, would not fly unless it dovetailed with a story line on a then-struggling, soon-to-be-cancelled, and now-forgotten Sunday-night drama called American Dreams, which was set in the 1960s. I was told that the Weather Underground story might be viable if American Dreams did an episode on "protesters or something."

At about the same time TV Patrol was running reports on vendors selling F4 posters. Which should be non-news except "Meteor Garden" was currently being touted as the next big thing.

At least the NBC decisions were a lot less garapal.

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