Friday, May 06, 2005

Reality News

Today you'll see the "newly" fired man from the Apprentice work the morning show circuit, as though something important just happened. A news program can align itself with programming schedules, and can hold a spot for whoever gets dupmed, though the punchline of the story is an irrelevant secret for the purpose of the report. That in mind, is it really news? Well, it is now. In cases like Survivor and the Apprentice, we're not even seeing staged events that just happened, but staged events that just aired. How about reporting on the next episode of King of the Hill? What, not real enough? Okay, what about the Osbournes' next episode? Different, right? Because this was a staged reality competition, and perhaps people don't want to believe that they are just watching a show. As long as it they can pass it for news, news programs will be happy to oblige with the illusion.

Maybe American Idol is a legitimate sport now and not just a television production. Its prominent news coverage seems to mimic that of pro sports playoffs these days. There is one small exception, however: without the TV program, the event could not possibly exist. I recognize that non-news television programming on occassion can have a significant impact on our society, though usually due to controversial statements they may make, beit tactically or accidentally. However, is each episode of American Idol such an occasion? For that matter, is the anticipated, day-to-day content of any television show worthy of extensive coverage?

Unfortunately, news defines our reality due to its wide influence on society. The thinly veiled message in reporting on a manufactured reality is this: sometimes one man's reality is simpy another man's commercial production.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Laura Bush. What a Kidder!

Hey, Laura Bush told a joke. She called herself a Desperate Housewife and roasted her husband. Reports out of Washington say her canned jokes were hysterical, and every respecatable news outlet in the country, and many around the world are still prominently running the story.

In January, George's iPod playlist was inexplicably leaked to press. Huge news, and worthy of in-depth analyses.

In December it was a video of their dog looking for their cat, starring the administration's best pals that made headlines all over. Not sure who paid for it but it was some compelling footage.

If the president issued a statement about what he had for breakfast, do you think he could get them to cover that? Suppose he was eating doughnuts again, after they made him fat on the campaign trail. Maybe? I'd guess probably.

So if they are taking the administration's bait on light stories to cover, I wonder what happens with the stories he'd rather they not talk about?

Religion and Media

Imagine an American Idol for grown-ups, where the viewers vote passionately every week to decide who stays on the show—BUT let’s raise the stakes. Instead of pop stars, let’s vote on Congressmen, judges, and--maybe for sweeps--we do the President of the United States. Yeah, and maybe we’ll occasionally vote on the Constitution and freedom, for spice. That could be a fun show, but it’s an awful lot to pack into one hour, and nobody will actually be able to get to know the candidates in that amount of time, so we’ll let the show’s judges screen the contestants. Ready for the kicker? Instead of voting for their favorite contestant, the audience will be pressed to employ the Simon Says approach: reaching a unanimous decision at the encouragement of the show’s producer, Simon. That way everybody casts a winning vote and they can revel in their popular decision each week, whether they tune in or not, as long as they echo Simon’s position before the phone lines are closed. Now I'm thinking that to protect the integrity of the show, if Simon's candidate somehow loses, he should shut down people who support unapproved contestants by boycotting their businesses and sending them straight to hell.

If you’re thinking about stealing my awesome idea, think again. Somebody already beat me to it.

“In 1976, God miraculously revealed long-forgotten, historic details to confirm Pat Robertson's vision from God to come to Virginia and claim a television station for His glory.” (from CBN website)

“We are achieving this (evangelical) end through the strategic use of mass communications, especially television and film, the Internet and New Media, radio; the distribution of cassettes, literature…” (
from CBN Website)

The Columbia Journalism Review’s (CJR) Mariah Blake explores the influence of faith-based media in CJR’s May/June issue

One representative of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) quoted in Blake’s piece explained, “We don’t just tell them what the news is, we tell them what it means, and that’s appealing to people, especially in moments of cultural instability.”

Ideology’s nice and all, but c’mon people! Let’s make some money on this. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which controls the “Fair and Balanced” Fox Network, met with NRB leaders in 2002 to convince them to oppose a proposed Echostar-DirecTV merger. The NRB complied, and after the FCC nixed the deal, Murdoch’s News Corporation bought DirecTV and gave the NRB a channel on it.

Blake’s article delves deep into the relationship between religion and politics, citing several examples that I can only plagiarize. Check it out.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Viacom to sell CBS?

Keep an eye on Viacom over the next couple months. They have announced that they could spin off CBS and are calling 2005 a "transition year". On April 25 they announced a new "multiplatform" strategy, which doesn't include broadcast television.

Does this shift support Sam Donaldson's assessment that network news is dead? Viacom is looking to embrace emerging technologies like satellite radio and video-on-demand. They are enhancing online and download opportunities for MTV content.

So who gets CBS? Well, at first glance Time Warner is the only major media conglomerate that doesn't have a major network, so they may check it out. Current FCC regulations forbid a company to control any two of ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX networks (GE, Disney, and News Corp. control the other three), so the other conglomerates with a large stake in TV are not currently eligible. However, Time Warner already controls the suite of CNN channels, which is free from the limitations of broadcast TV. Bertelsmann would be the sixth conglomerate to speak of, but has not indicated an interest in television as of late, and has no TV holdings in any of their six divisions, focusing on publishing and music.

Furthermore, Viacom is feeling heat from the emergence of satelite radio, as they are one of just two media conglomerates that control a broadcast radio company, in Infinity Broadcasting, which owns over 180 radio stations in 40 markets (the other being Disney, which uses Disney Radio to manufacture teen idols with incredible precision, to the benefit of their other holdings, which control the recordings, film projects and distribution of their project teens' efforts) so it would stand to reason that Infinity's operations will be getting some extra attention from Viacom as well.

Should Time Warner stay their course and take a pass on control of a broadcast TV network, we may see a new player bulk up its position in world of media heavyweights, or witness Donaldson's grim forecast of the fate of broadcast news. Visit the links below for more details:


Infinity Broadcasting Corporation:

Time Warner:

Donaldson "Network News Dead":

FCC Regulations:

Fear & Favor

Hats off to FAIR ( journalists Peter Hart and Julie Hollar, who compiled this provocative list of content-bending pressures that shape the content of media coverage in today's news marketplace:

If you don't have time to check out all of the specific examples cited in the article, take a moment to review the links in the first paragraph to specific pressures the media face. Each just one to three paragraphs long, these concise "What's Wrong with the Media" pieces (the complete list is available at provide a surprisingly thorough overview of the most significant challenges that our media find itself subject to every day.