Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fourth Estate Tax

No doubt most conscious, rational people share Jon Carroll's estimable concerns regarding the current plight of American corporate media, even given the inherent parochial interests. And it's true, newspapers do indeed have the power and the space to address interesting stories and angles that other media simply do not have the resources or attention span to hit.

I learned about the cargo ships off Singapore from the New York Times, which published a poignant photograph of all those behemoths, fog-shrouded, hanging around in the Strait of Malacca.


The ships are hanging about because there is no cargo for them to carry, because the world economy has basically stopped in some places, notably Singapore. These are really big ships - to quote Keith Bradsher, who wrote the Times story: "Some (weigh) up to 300,000 tons, with many weighing more than the entire 130-ship Spanish Armada" - and they are doing absolutely nothing, and will be doing absolutely nothing for the foreseeable future.

And I was thinking about the Web sites I like best, the Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo and Salon (particularly Glenn Greenwald), and realizing that none of them, as good as they are, would cover the cargo ships idling off Singapore. It's not a sexy story, and there are no bloggers dying to make a name for themselves in the international shipping area, and yet to understand the world, it is important to understand how deep the recession is in Asia, particularly in the famously go-get-'em all-capitalism-all-the-time Singapore peninsula.

That's what newspapers do. They look at stuff that other people don't look at, because someone who is pretty darned smart understands that this is important. Also, someone found a very cool photograph of the foggy ships. And also, someone else had the wit to write that the tonnage of just one cargo ship exceeded that of the entire Spanish Armada. I mean, talk about a cool fact.

That's a very cool fact, and a very cool approach to take on what might otherwise be perceived or presumed to be a "dry" topic. But it's an all-too-brief respite of perspective in a barrage of pure nonsense. Who decides what is "dry" or "sexy" or not, and why, and for whom? Carroll later makes the point that as wonderful as the Web can be in some areas, it is a "reader-driven medium". Fair enough -- then who or what keeps, say, people such as Carrie Prejean or Donald Trump in the media eye? Not to belabor that dreadful non-story, but at this moment, Sarah Palin's endorsement of whatever the fuck Prejean keeps babbling about has been in the Chronicle's top seven stories on the sidebar all week, and is currently #3.

Is that a "reader-driven" decision or an editor-driven one? Obviously, in the electronic media, it's not even a question, it's a mission statement, an official (if not yet officially-stated) quest to herd the cattle from one contrived hot-button issue to the next, with nary a breath in between. And the Web facilitates this instant-asshole nonsense in a way that print never can, yet print journamalists still feel compelled, perhaps even pressured, to me-too their way through these stories, providing helpful recaps of what everyone already gleaned about said contrived hot-button issue, yet still absent appropriate objective analysis. They help to punt the issue on, again and again, with no real resolution. People just get tired enough of reading about it to stop scribbling their tedious jeremiads to the hapless editor. Apparently that's enough of a signal that they don't have to talk about it anymore, which seems like a cumbersome way of determining story direction. Unless, of course, your goal is more to provide narrative than analysis, which seems to be the case, not as much in print as in other media, but still often enough.

So it's a bit of a devil's bargain the print media have struck in forming their intartubez avatars, where ignorant, abusive commenters are enabled -- even tacitly encouraged at times -- to inflict their shoddy reasoning skills on other readers. This cannot help but have an ancillary effect of systematically conditioning otherwise reasonable people to assume the worst -- about the intent and content of a given story, the writer, and ultimately the news organization promoting the sideshow du jour.

Again, using the example of the Prejean "story" which is not and never was a newsworthy story, this is typically the stage of the cycle where "media observers", the humps who make the circuit for these stupid things, assess the "winners" and "losers". This serves as the short-attention-span version of a denouement, while also implying an actual resolution.

You know who the "winner" is of the Prejean story? Donald Trump. Seriously, when was the last time anyone gave a hot monkey fuck about the Miss USA pageant? It's just like the "teabaggers" crap last month, an inordinate amount of time and attention granted to a small but vocal group of morons, most of whom have no familiarity with even their own talking points. All but the personally vested basement masturbators who flocked to Palin will forget about Prejean by summer, but you can bet your ass that come next year, major corporate media entities will be nesting in that fucking thing on Trump's forehead to stir up pre-pageant publicity.

Since NBC has a vested interest in helping Trump out, they've been the worst about it, schlepping Trump and Prejean onto the Today show (which really is just an interminable vestige of what the show originally was) the other day for Matt Lauer to "interview" them. Whatever they're paying Lauer, it's not enough; I don't care how many shower heads the imported glass-block stall has in the Manhattan townhouse or whatever, but it can't be enough to wash away that stink. But like a good whore, he doesn't really seem to mind. Who says J. Fred Muggs is gone?

But again, this is perfect cross-promotion for NBC, which apparently aired a three-hour finale of Trump's stupid-ass "ya fiahed" show last weekend. Three hours of Trump and Joan Rivers screaming at each other, I would assume. And instead of doing the right thing and flying a plane into the building during filming, they air the fucking thing like they're proud of that shit, and then utilize their "news" division as cross-promotion over some fake controversy created and nurtured by a corporate media -- including the hallowed print sector -- that is on its heels not only because it can't figure out a decent revenue model, but because it has long lost sight of its original mission. This is done over and over again, month after month, year after year, and everyone winks and nods and pretends to be professional people doing honest work.

Maybe when the media players collectively decide that they'd rather be professionals instead of vaudeville shills, and quit catering to retards, they might regain their professional integrity, and we can get more thoughtful stories like the one Carroll describes, and fewer sideshows.

1 comment:

Joe Blow said...


kick butt!

"This is done over and over again, month after month, year after year, and everyone winks and nods and pretends to be professional people doing honest work."

This is why the Daily Show and South Park are the only usefull things on TV. and maybe the simpsons, but they seem to have gone stale.

After 28 years of reading the local paper and the NY Times I have cancelled my subscriptions and started reading some of my books.

I don't have a TV yet after two weeks, and may last month or two more.

(okay also miss Olberman/Maddow, history channel and some baseball)

DVR was just becoming my friend)