More From The Edges

David Carr writes about the voices from the edge today in his column, keying on the fake school speech debate. Two key grafs:

But that was before the consumer Web took hold, before Fox News, before MSNBC, before a media ecosystem blossomed that amplified every debate into a frantic broadcast scrum. Conservatives, we should note, seem far better at the rather unwelcome task of being the party of opposition, with a very efficient apparatus that can seize on issues, both real and imagined, and turn up the volume and the heat right with it. (During the school dust-up, a commentator on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show said the president was building a cult of personality analogous to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il.)

and then later:

That is not how the media works, however, in an environment that prizes engagement and conflict. The long town-hall process over health care, for example, has given ordinary citizens a voice but it has also produced hundreds of video clips of angry, scared Americans. For every aging secretary who can’t afford prescriptions, there is a small business owner who wants less government in their life, not more. Tropes like “death panels” may lack substance, but they make for pretty compelling viewing day after day.

In part, the outrage and hyperbole work because the mainstream media, insecure about their own status in an atomizing world, play into the tyranny of split-screen coverage where almost any claim — no matter how outlandish — becomes one side in “an interesting debate.” When not listening to talking heads, the traditional news outlets go to great efforts to get a microphone on vox populi. If the people, even if it is some unknown number, are hopping mad, we don’t want to be the last to tell you about it.

I’ve bolded the section above that’s most relevant – I think David is right and that much of what we are seeing here represents a failure of the mainstream media. Jim Fallows made a similar point, noting how unusual it was to see the mainstream media call a claim false, not matter how often it was proven false:

Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times, whose previous reporting about the health-care debate has been noted (in different ways) here and here, has a very strong story today about Elizabeth McCaughey and her role in these discussions.
Why this matters: the story straightforwardly does something that goes against the nature of mainstream coverage. It notes the influence that Ms. McCaughey’s claims have had on public discussion, while also flatly saying that those claims are often false. It’s worth recognizing what a step this is for the Times, prefigured in this story from three weeks ago. The natural reflex of mainstream publications is to finesse such disagreements with the "some critics claim…" approach. It seems more "objective," and it certainly is safer for the reporter and the news organization. And when we are talking about differences of opinion, judgment, or political creed, of course that’s exactly the right approach to take. ("Is the Administration’s approach to Iran likely to work? Some critics claim…") But there is a such a thing as plain misstatement of fact, and it is good when the press can point it out.

Carr’s column is worth reading as well because it talks about the struggles that the current US administration is having getting its story out into a merged media marketplace. A couple of key things that would likely help:

  • Message discipline
  • Speed of response
  • Direct communication

Those work for all of us, btw….

4 Responses to “More From The Edges”

  1. Richard Says:

    I believe using the word “mainstream” to describe old media is a mistake and confers more moment on these folks then is their due. Their product is not consumed by the majority of the nation or the world. And their pie of consumers is shrinking.

  2. fxshaw Says:

    Fair point; i think “old” is not quite right either. Middle of the road media? 🙂

  3. Richard Says:

    “…i think “old” is not quite right either. Middle of the road media?” I think the term “middle of the road” confers a sense of balanced reporting that is not justified by their performance in the past several years. They all have some bias, at a minimum. I like the term “old media” because it is what they are:

    Newspapers—been around since soon after the invention of printing press.
    Commercial radio—mid 1920s onward
    Television—broadcast TV since late 1940s; cable/satellite since CNN was founded in 1980.

    They are old by comparison to Internet-based news, blogs and social media sites.
    QED 😀

  4. Simon Owens Says:

    Speaking of David Carr, we recently hosted a round table discussion between him and TechDirt’s Mike Masnick over whether micropayments would be a viable business model for newspapers.

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