Mitch Ratcliffe, don’t you sleep? Here’s his response to my last.
In truth, we’re agreeing more than we’re disagreeing. He gets to the nub of what’s wrong with televised coverage here:
The access is no better than in World War II, when Ernie Pyle (who was killed by a Japanese sniper) chronicled the important elements of the war instead, including the boredom and the intense drama, but did it reflectively, humanizing the story which is too big for anyone to sit and absorb through a bunch of soda-straw views offered by CNN. Today’s coverage is just faster to land in our retinas.
Yes, there’s way too much cooing over the technology and the speed. Again, we’re in early days. It’s a horrible thing to wish for, but I bet the gee-whiz focus will shift to the story itself if the war drags on. Even local stations know that Doppler 4000 is ultimately less important to viewers than whether it’ll rain tomorrow.
We want our news accurate, colorful, in perspective, with plenty of story and heart. And now. We want it now. Gotta be now. My first bureau chief told me early on, as I struggled with some instantly forgotten story, “It might win a Pulitzer, Danny. But if I don’t have it by 6, we’ll never know.” As Carrie Fischer wrote, instant gratification takes too long.
I’ve been a journalist, too, Mitch; I spent six years with UPI and more time with other news services and weeklies and magazines and it’s added up somehow to 25 years. (I’ve got to get a bio up on this page.) I know a little something about using technology to report and distribute the news, and I know about how news is managed. When the hostages came home from Iran, I was camped for a week at West Point interviewing returnees; for a week, my life was literally spent in footraces with Peter Arnett and Connie Chung as we sprinted for phones. A 1981 news scrum is different from a 2003 news scrum, and I doubt the difference is an improvement.
It’s good that you use World War II and Ernie Pyle as benchmarks; the rules the media is operating under look much like the ones Pyle had to abide by. Pyle, of course, was a print reporter, not required to fill time at an anchor desk and not required to send an endless stream of snap reportage to a wire desk. It’s also worth noting that Pyle’s reputation grew over years of warfare, not in a week-long night sprint across the desert.
Speed is the natural enemy of thoughfulness and perspective, and we’re in the Speed part of this war. If you want thoughtfulness and perpsective, turn off the box. There are two things that TV does well: the live shot and the Up Close And Personal package. Just you wait: it won’t be long before we start bitching that we’re learning too much about the soldiers and not enough about the progress of the war itself.
Can we get better from bloggers? Sure. Maybe. Why not? But let’s not confuse technology with the end product. If the bloggers are good reporters, know their territories and see something interesting, their dispatches will be worth reading. If they aren’t, it’s just the next generation of ransom-note desktop publishing.
Unless we are engaged in another war, which we probably will be, there is little likelihood the media will ever do a reality check on the plan vs. the actual way the battle played out.
Well, it sure won’t be on TV, with the possible exception of Frontline, because TV doesn’t do stuff like that well. But I bet it’ll be in the dozen or so newspapers who care to devote their resources to real journalism. Which means it’ll be available to people who care. If that can be done through an on-line medium, have at it. It’ll be an evolution.
And Mitch writes:
Maybe the most powerful thing CNN could do is make its footage available for people to use to make their own points about the war. What if every time a bomb exploded a blogger could overlay the phrase “50 people died in that explosion” over the video? That would change the way we see this war, just as it would if every explosion said “50 U.S. soldiers’ lives were spared by using that bomb, just as Hiroshima was necessary to prevent 150,000+ American casualties invading the Japanese home islands.”
Wonderful. Pop-Up War Videos. That’ll change the world for the better. It’d be instructive to see how, say, Fox, CNN and Al-Jazeera caption the same explosion. Triangulating to the truth sometimes gets harder, not easier, because of course there is no one truth.
… the journalists who are supposed to help us understand events have ceded that responsibility to the technology, a kind of panopticon function that lends absolutely no clarity for the audience. Then, the only expert voices we get are former generals, maybe a former secretary of defense who agrees the war is going well…
But a new media that collected these records of events and presented them in ways that can be navigated and explored so that, in addition to hearing and seeing the stories of a war or an election, we can participate and share our own ideas and get the ideas of others in a truly plural view of events, then that would be new.
New, yes. But not neccessarily better. A former general knows more about warfare than I do, so he’s worth listening to more than I am — even with all his biases and history. More voices are good, more perspective is good, and the ability to amplify thought is the single most exciting thing about the personal computer revolution. But anyone who’s been to a public meeting knows that there’s such a thing as too much conversation and input.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in New York, and I’ve spent the last two hours typing into a 13-line box in a browser I don’t like, and there’s coffee to be drunk and breakfast to cook and laundry to put away and babies to play with. There’s lots of ideas still buzzing — a good thing, since this is our life’s work — but they’ll still be here later.