Whiskey Tango Foxtrot … again

28 08 2009

Sometimes, I wonder why it is such a shock (to me) that the regular media outlets fail so astonishingly at providing anything which vaguely fits the description of “news”. Instead of the hard-hitting journalism of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite, we are treated to a journalistic, infotainment-like art product.

For example, when the people of  Iran were struggling against the despotic control of their government, the media profoundly and unbelievably dropped the ball. After ignoring the story for weeks in the desperate hope that the whole thing would just go away if they pretended it didn’t exist, the mainstream media giants finally dipped a toe into the waters of actual journalism. For a moment. The media giants were saved from having to provide meaningful content by the death of an aging pedophile 1980’s pop star.

Astronomers announce that they have detected clouds of methane on Titan. A woman who had been kidnapped by religious nutjobs, then imprisoned and raped repeatedly for eighteen years was finally freed. The Afghan election results are still unpublished amid rumors of scandal. The state of California is auctioning off public assets in a frantic attempt to avoid bankruptcy. Wars continue in Africa and parts of Asia. Mexico is on the verge of dissolving into warring bands of narco-warlords. With all of this important stuff going on, what are we treated to in the mainstream media?

The life and miracles of Saint Chappaquiddick.

Here is yet more evidence of the media’s inability to deliver actual news:


It is (or should be) deeply disturbing that the best news delivery services come from a late-night comedian on basic cable and a news-aggregator website which was started with a picture of a squirrel with large testicles. Both of these sources (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and FARK.com, respectively) made their bones making fun of media hypocrisy and mocking journalistic failures. And yet, more and more people are getting in-depth coverage of important stories from these sources.

Local news programs are not immune from the lure of journalistic bubble-gum. The most watched news program in the Shallow South ran in-depth features on Michael Vick’s return to professional football for the first ten minutes of each broadcast for weeks. The daily rag in my town is just as bad. It is becoming a chore to search out real news anymore.

By contrast, Jon Stewart gets policymakers and other newsmakers on his show all the time. In-depth interviews are frequently conducted. Since The Daily Show is just a half-hour long (22 minutes of actual airtime), these interviews are often truncated when the show runs out of time, but the full, unedited interview is always available for free on Comedy Central’s website immediately after the broadcast. Why can’t the mainstream “news” organizations do this better? They have manpower and budgets many times greater than Jon Stewart and his band of happy wombats at The Daily Show.

Worse still is the miserable showing of the large news conglomerates in comparison to FARK. When major events take place, FARK is usually far ahead of the major media news programs- often by hours. Thousands of people, many of them local to the story or even part of it, post comments on FARK’s message boards. Facts are checked against available evidence and sources are vigorously vetted for bias by a totally unpaid army of basement-swelling troglodytes. Several hours before the regular media released information about the Garridos (from the kidnapping and rape saga in California this week), people on FARK had already searched out their names and aerial photos of their home. The man’s blog and website were posted on FARK at least a day before that information was released in the national media. I have already written at length about the media’s failure to cover the turmoil in Iran.

Once, there were giants. People who strode through the most important stories of their time and got at the facts behind the public story. Men and women who actually wrote the things they later reported on TV or radio or in print. Those men and women are all gone, now. All we have left are empty-headed mouthers of gibberish masquerading as news, who are too incompetent to be trusted to write their own material. Plastic Barbies and Kens with so little intellectual capacity that they would read a murder confession if it happened to be displayed on a teleprompter.

Assuming I am not typing these words for my own sole amusement, you may ask yourself how this happened. I can answer that. We made it happen.

Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow would never be stars if they were getting started in journalism today. They aren’t pretty. At best, they might get jobs writing material for the animatronic droids in front of the cameras to parrot. We are apparently more comfortable getting our news from soulless drones who look nice than from someone who actually knows whereof they speak. As long as the talking head on TV is attractive and generic, we don’t seem to mind that our “news” sources have dumbed-down the material they present to the level single-celled organisms can accept. “Oooh! Lookit! A scary fire happened on the way to work today. You like looking at pretty fire, don’t you? Yes, you do. There’s a good little consumer. Aren’t you a good little consumer? Yes, you are.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Worlds Away by Strange Advance

On Usefulness

28 10 2007

For those of you who have been living in a cave for the past week or so, a classic example of why the mainstream media is becoming increasingly irrelevant played itself out in southern California. I’m not talking about the fires themselves so much as the media coverage of the fires.

Last Sunday, when the first fires were reported and the Santa Anna winds began to brew them up into a major firestorm, a large and international group swung into action. These people supplied up-to-the-minute information on fire location and direction, emergency contact information, mandatory evacuation orders and shelter locations. Several of these people were on the job for 36 hours at a stretch before collapsing for a few hours’ sleep and coming right back to keep the information flowing. Despite the terrible urgency of the information they presented, these people routinely cross-checked their sources for accuracy, posted immediate corrections when required, and always listed the source of their information.

This went on for five days.

By the way, not a single one of these people received a penny in compensation for their efforts.

Who were these stalwarts, you might well ask. CNN? ABC? Fox? NBC? BBC? Al-Jazeira? CBS?

While the highly-paid “journalists” of the networks were delivering information that was usually hours old (between commercial breaks and “news” about celebrities), the fine folks at FARK were delivering the real goods- for free. With no commercial breaks. FARK posters living in the affected areas posted non-stop information from scanners, emergency broadcasts, and personal observations for five days. A day before the media outlets noticed the crisis at the animal shelters in the area, FARK posters were already identifying donation points and organizations, and even organizing individual relief efforts.

For free. Because it needed doing, and the media outlets were universally incapable of doing the job.

How many people are aware of the fact that Mexico sent hundreds of firefighters north to help California with the disaster? They couldn’t stay long, because the fires affected Baja California as well, and they had to go home to fight for their own cities. Everyone who read the FARK threads on the subject knows this, but the mainstream media is curiously mute on the subject. The big media outlets are too busy comparing the California wildfires to Hurricane Katrina, speculating about the possibility of terrorist involvement, and bemoaning the fact that several “celebrities” were forced to evacuate.

This was not a unique set of circumstances. FARK on-the-spot reporting routinely scooped ALL of the media outlets during the Virginia Tech massacre. In addition to getting information out as much as an hour before the media outlets, FARK’s fact-checking process delivered better and more accurate information. What is this unbelievable fact-checking process? Thousands of intelligent, computer-savvy FARK readers and posters, many of whom had personal knowledge of the situation, location, or people involved.

The fact that the mainstream media is interested only in ratings (and the money those ratings mean for their networks) is hampering the spread of information. Facts are lost amid the noise of “human interest” stories and sensationalism.

Nattering about nonsense in lieu of delivering useful information has become the hallmark of the mainstream media. If you are depending on the mainstream media to keep you informed during a crisis, you’re putting your faith into purveyors of a “infotainment, journalism-like art product”.

This is not intended to shill for FARK- I get no benefit from doing so. I used FARK as the example with which I am most familiar. I am sure that other web communities performed similar functions which were far more useful than the media outlets. The point of this rant is that the media outlets have NO EXCUSE for failing so miserably. they have lots of money and equipment, herds of people supposedly trained in delivering information, and (most importantly) a massive infrastructure capable of delivering information all over the fucking planet. And they still failed at their primary purpose, literally pwned by a bunch of loosely-organized amateurs on a free website. That free website, by the way, was started by a guy with a picture of a squirrel.

Facts are always useful. Infotainment is the antithesis of useful. The large media conglomerates have failed of their original purpose by delivering infotainment in lieu of facts in their blind pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.

Current status: Irked

Current music: Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen