Tuesday, April 15, 2003
It is clear, certainly from this current war, that the media must broaden its continued Internet decentralization if free speech is to survive. The old broadcast media is growing feeble in its stylistic decadence and the increasing distrust of its more shaped news product.
CNN anchor Paula Zahn
I think it is of interest that CNN, not unlike most, has misrepresented what its recent war viewers were seeking. In some laughably ponderous promotion currently enjoying a healthy rotation, the Noodle Network mistakenly concludes that a war time spike in ratings confirmed a glowing cloak of trust for Larry, Paula and the whole increasingly fun “gang”. I don’t think so.
We tuned in for the satellite phone video embed reports that smug insiders in their usual hideously poor taste were calling war porn. It wasn’t any particular reporter that lured our info hungry eyes (though I do believe NBC benefited from its often time better quality signal) for the sand and grime reduced them all to a soldierly sameness and often times to a talking blob. The lure, without minimizing the bravery or skill of the embeds, was what the industry calls “natural sound” with a silent witness Point of View camera and the reactions of someone not quite traditionally reporting so much as experiencing and participating.
Many viewers, after experiencing these reports, would rove the internet reading battlefield reports from a variety of more traditional embedded print reporters and commentary from traditional sources and internet web sites aided by the newer and more leveling blog phenomena providing some news, commentary and links to further information. The gestalt of all this old style and new made for broader deeper understanding of the war as an evolving Rubric’s Cube of conflicting data and emotion with the key to understanding provided by the passive embedded camera. Michael Wolff in his widely read London Guardian commentary this week admitted that the reporters in the Press Command Center sensed that this traditional place to be was not the place to be.
The embed, man and camera, could easily become the essential ingredient: the probing finger of the giant beast that is the entire media gestalt.
Embeds not to reason why
Embeds but to view or die.
I am surprised, considering the actions of some embeds, that at least one of the reporter deaths didn’t occur before the camera and happen live. What would have happened had that occurred is anyone’s guess. But, aside from the moral questions involved with such a public death, the event, coldly, would have become another valid bit of relevant data added to the story of a war.
After the disastrous ratings declines for the old major networks announced at the beginning of the week, I am quite sure the networks will latch onto and mutate aspects of the embed approach certainly into the reality shows and possibly into more news programming.
I just cannot imagine an American television news executive being able to pass up someone embedded with the citizens of town X as monster hurricane Y storms up the coast. Or, even better, to ratings hungry news executive, imagine some Internet video chat group with a member present, capable of reporting and broadcasting from a future news event like a hostage situation, bank robbery or volcano. Or, maybe even long form documentary-style embedding from the state mental health facility or the high school.
I am equally sure, considering the relative low cost and manpower, that there will emerge a whole new generation of more highly trained free lance, hired gun satellite video phone reporting teams experiencing the news and relaying it to the consumer through internet streams or more traditional venues.
The toothpaste is out of the tube.
Photo: CNN via AP and NYT