Multimedia Musings

by Christopher J. Spurlock

Monthly Archives: September 2010

Restoring Sanity

As you may or may not have heard, Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” has decided to put on a rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. He’s calling the event The Rally to Restore Sanity, and he’s said the rally is aimed at those “who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”

In recent months, there has been an outbreak of absurdly extreme dialog within the political discussion, and this rally is Stewart’s attempt to “take it down a notch, for America.” He’s trying to speak not to the 20 percent of the population on the extreme right and left, but to that middle 80 percent of Americans who “shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat.”

After hearing about this rally and really giving some thought to the idea that we need to take it down a notch, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Are we responsible? Have we, as the media, been encouraging this ridiculous name-calling and childish banter?”

I have my own answer to that question (which I’ll post later), but what about you? What do you think?

Go forth, and discuss!

The users are mad as hell…but are we listening to them yell?

Howard Beale is pissed! You should be, too!

Last night (while I should have been studying for a quiz) I came across a blog post that really piqued my attention. I think it was the post’s title, “The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: My Advice to the Next Generation,” that really got me. (I’m not sure if it’s because I’m graduating soon, but lately I’ve been paying more attention to all of this “future of journalism” chatter.) Combined with my immediate desire to procrastinate, my curiosity was enough to get me to start reading.

The post’s author, Jay Rosen, is a journalism professor at NYU and one of the leading journalism scholars in the nation. Last week, he gave a speech to the incoming class of journalism students at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris, France; he then took the transcript of that speech and adapted it for his blog.

In the post, he begins by referencing the 1976 movie Network. Because I’m under the age of 50, I’ve never seen the film, but I watched the clip he embedded. What I watched was the (apparently) infamous scene in which TV anchor Howard Beale goes a bit nutty on air and tells his viewers to go to their windows, open them up, stick their heads out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Incredibly, the people did just that.

Initially, I wasn’t sure why he included the clip. What point was Rosen trying to make here? He explained by writing,

“In my reading of [the scene], the filmmakers are showing us what the mass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewers are connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another… When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty public square they discover just how many other people had been ‘out there,’ watching television in atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Beale put into words.”

After reading that, and the rest of the post (which I highly recommend), I started thinking about the state of the media today. If I am to believe what I hear on an increasingly regular basis, the so-called “Big Media” Rosen references is dying rapidly. But, if the mass media we’ve been so accustomed to is fading fast, who will people “connect up” to? Rosen makes the argument that, with the advent of the Internet and social media, the public no longer has a need make that connection. Instead, he posits that people are “turning away from Big Media and turning toward one another.” They are making millions of lateral connections in lieu of the traditional vertical one.

I think Rosen is absolutely correct in his analysis of today’s public and how they connect to the world. He put into words (very eloquent and academic words) what I have been thinking for awhile now. But has journalism, as a profession, come to this realization yet? Does every journalist out there realize their newspaper, radio station, or TV network is no longer “the source” for news? Do they realize they no longer dictate and moderate the national and global conversation? I would argue that they don’t.

Spending this past summer as an intern at a TV station provided me with some great experiences, but it also showed me just how blind some journalists and news executives are to what their audiences are thinking and how they are interacting with one another. Some news organizations think they get it, but they really don’t. They’re trying to create “community-centric” news outlets that run on user-generated content, but they’re missing the point. They’re misunderstanding that most basic economic principle of supply and demand. If the public doesn’t demand that type of news, they’ll just ignore it when it’s supplied. The whole “if you build it, they will come” mentality doesn’t apply here.

What Rosen argues is that we need to rethink the way in which we perceive the audience. He says we need to “replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term ‘users.'” When we imagine our audience as a group of users, we can more effectually interact with them. Instead of dictating “down” to them, we need to get on their level. We need to become the moderators of the new public conversation instead of ignoring it, we need to respect the power of the public to create their own content, and we need to embrace the new role the user is playing in the gathering and reporting of news.

What do you think? If you’re a journalist, are you worried? As a user, do you feel misunderstood? Your comments, criticisms and creative solutions are appreciated and encouraged.

Just when you start to get bored…

This week marked my second shift working a dot com shift at KOMU. While I performed many of the same basic tasks as I did last week, there was definitely a lot more excitement during this week’s shift. Nothing exciting or out-of-the-ordinary happened for the first hour, so I took that time to take care of some of the basic tasks (checking the AP wire stories, doing camera inventory, etc.). I also made sure to monitor the social networks as well, and it was there where I found the story of the day.

The Columbia Missourian sent out a tweet saying that the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office had officially filed sexual charges against Derrick Washington, starting running back for the Missouri football team. I spent the remainder of my shift manning the situation at the web, which involved updating the story on KOMU.com, sending the news out over our Twitter stream, and contacting the Boone County Sheriff’s Office to get them to e-mail Washington’s mug shot to the station.

Because of all the commotion, I unfortunately didn’t have any time to further discuss my project with Jen Reeves, but we’ve been in contact since then to discuss it. I’ll keep you all updated!

Until next time…