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Not Necessarily the News-Room - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
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captainsblog
Not Necessarily the News-Room
We're down to the final two episodes of Aaron Sorkin's take on modern news media. Most of the plot of this week's third-to-last airing, titled "Contempt" was about either (1) duh, Will being held in contempt for not revealing a source to a federal judge, or (2)  several of the pairings of M/F journalists developed during the season to date.  Apropos of the latter, I'll share only this slightly wonderful sight from the episode's final minutes, all the more wonderful because it's shot over Sam Waterston's shoulder:



What interested me far more was the C-story of the script, about the clash between Old Media and New, and the extents to which the standards of the former have to give way to the novelties, technologies and (quoting the fictional network's probable new owner) "disruption" opportunities of the latter.

The hypothesis is largely proven: Gen-X'ers/Y'ers/Millennials don't want to read their grandpa's newspaper, or watch their daddy's Evening Network News. They want to be entertained by the news, even becoming part of making and reporting it! And Murrow/Cronkite/Rather don't work anymore!

That's largely true; hell, I don't want to read my grandpa's daily newspaper anymore (although I'll admit to some sentimental tactile like for the physical paper for both books and periodicals), and I'm quite comfortable navigating the online versions of both Old and New Media. What I'm not comfortable with is the way New Media prioritizes: too little attention to what really is news, and virtually no separation of the editorial and business sides of the sites.

----

So much of current media is geared to the sensational, the salacious, and the celebrity. I now get a near-constant reminder of these priorities on Facebook, which sidebars "trending" items that are almost always weighted toward celebrities and sports figures. When hard news does slip in (such as Ferguson, at this moment), it's being filtered through the lenses of pundits, such as Charles Barkley's opinion of it (celebrity? check; sports? check). Even respected Old Media sources are kowtowing to this "trend," adding "links you may like" at the end of their stories (if not more prominently placed) with "Mom is 53 but looks 27!" teasers and with no obvious disclaimer that these are. Not. NEWS. At least not in the sense that I learned to define it- as reported fairly, completely and with respect for the sources, the language and, yes, the truth. That's what Jeff Daniels's character was seen going off in handcuffs to protect, and what Sam Waterston's promised to be the start of a war with his network's putative new owner.

Just as scary, though, is the form it all takes. I grew up, before and during my career as a journalist, with a clear sense of structure based on the STORY. Each had a predictable structure within it (top-down presentation, the 5 W's, clear rules for attribution) and, equally predictable, the structure among them (top to bottom and right to left of the page, front to back within the physical product). Today's news site is just as strictly structured, but the unit of measurement is not the STORY but the CLICK. This distinction caused much of the tension over the last two Newsrooms between a young but Old Media producer and his slightly younger but much Newer Media girlfriend; he was shocked to see her New Media employer basing her compensation on clicks, because of the temptation to sex up the stories to keep those "READ MORE" clicks coming.

These types of "stories" are all over my Facefeed, and they're as annoying as they are predictable. Almost always, they're teased as "THE TEN [or some other number between 5 and 20 tied to the typical Ritalin user's attention span) SHOCKING THINGS YOU MUST MUST MUST KNOW OR YOU WILL DIE." That first click will get you, eventually, only the first of those things, which takes forever as it loads the 20 different trackers and pop-ups and demands to LIKE US ON FACEBOOK and SIGN UP FOR EMAILS OR THAT'LL KILL YOU, TOO. Each click to five, twenty, whatever pads their stats and keeps you hanging all the way to the end, where, no doubt, you'll be greeted by still more lists of TOP [insert number here] THINGS YOU'LL CLICK THROUGH OR WE'LL SHOOT THIS PUPPY.

Not only is this not my grandpa's journalism, it's not mine. Hopefully it never will be. And yet, a week from this coming Sunday, Sorkin will be shutting down his Newsroom. It may only be a matter of time before the likes of NewsNight will only be quaint and fading memories to those of us who re

OH LOOK! A CUTE KITTY!
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