The big mistake in covering the Tea Party

tea party t-shirtI don’t write about politics often, because I get myself in trouble when I do. Thanks to an important period in my history, I see things a little differently than most of my peers, and that either makes me insightful or crazy, depending on your own perspective.

From 1981–1985, I was producer of The 700 Club, Pat Robertson’s go-to guy when it came to the program. I also worked there for a year in 1987 as executive producer while he was running for President. Many people have asked me to write a book about that period, and I may yet, although the subsequent shit storm would probably not be worth it. When people hear that I did that in my life, they make assumptions, and that’s fine. I promise those assumptions are wrong, but who cares? The point is I was there, in the thick of the rise of the Christian Right, and you weren’t, so argue with me if you wish, but my response will probably still be, “You don’t know crap.”

All of that brings me to a point I wish to make about this thing called The Tea Party and, more importantly, how the press is reacting to it.

Henry Blodgett tweeted this morning: “Here are the 14 OTHER craziest things tea party candidates believe,” which was then retweeted by Jeff Jarvis. Blodgett has 18,009 followers; Jarvis has 50,953. Both are very influential folks in the world of journalism, so we can fairly well assume that this was passed all over the globe. The link on the tweet was to a Business Insider article by the same title, which contains, among other things, this:

For Democrats, supporting the Tea Party means winning a few populist votes and establishing a third party to split the conservative vote. For Republicans, supporting the Tea Party means co-opting America’s loudest grass roots movement.

But who exactly are these people? Some are really, really nutty.
Click here to see their strange beliefs »

humorous pictured used in the storyWhat follows is a slide show with entertaining pictures of candidates that are Tea Party friendly, like this one of Delaware Republican Senatorial nominee Christine O’Donnell. The idea of this article and the slide show is to look down intellectual noses and make fun of this group. Nobody from the left takes the Tea Party seriously, although they all view the group as a threat, both politically and culturally. The tactic liberals are employing is to simply reveal the Tea Party’s lack of intelligence by showing their signs or lifting outrageous quotes, as this article does, in the assumed belief that readers or viewers will gasp at the ignorance. The veiled references to Hitler or other totalitarian monsters are designed to scare “real” people into action.

Let me tell you, folks, this is a significant mistake, because this group and these people are neither stupid, ignorant or, as the writer asserts, nutty. The press is playing right into their hands with this behavior by confirming the “us versus them” nature of their argument that something is wrong with America and these intellectual snobs are to blame. We are being baited, folks, baited by people who know exactly what they’re doing. Rather than pick little quotes or signs or whatever that fit into our predispositions, we’re going to need to do a better job of explaining the context within which those statements are given. Otherwise, we simply make their case for them.

Who is the Tea Party? We view them as backwoods morons from the South (it’s always the South, right?), and this is our first mistake. We hear some outrageous statement and that’s all we hear. We need to probe deeper and maybe drop the condescending nature of our coverage.

To put it in Jay Rosen’s terms, people feel disenfranchised from a lifetime of being left out of the debate by those with the power to do so. Remember, one in seven are unemployed. They’re worse off than ever, and more importantly, they see no hope, especially in continuing to trod the old paths. They’re tired of us considering them in the “sphere of deviance,” not worthy of participation in the discussion of life’s events. They look around and blame us for this, and in today’s world of disruption, they don’t need us anymore, so they’re saying, “The hell with you.”

Look around. The U.S. simply isn’t what it used to be. We’ve sold our future, and we’ve got growing problems. The economy sucks. If you think the public isn’t on the verge of taking matters into their own hands, you’re deluded. That’s the steaming caldron of a mess that the Tea Partiers are feeding upon, and we disrespect those who are suffering by asserting our intellectual superiority as the foundation of our coverage of the group.

So while it may seem like fun to present the Tea Party as such, we’re actually remiss in our duty as journalists in so doing. “Nobody with any brains will actually vote,” we convince ourselves, “for somebody who believes the earth is only 6,000 years old.”

(Will they?)

News Anchor Barbie, who knew?

news anchor barbieThis was an inevitable as the sun coming up in the morning, and the local news business should take a hard look at itself as a result. This is what young people — young girls, at least — see when they look at our business. Pretty, nicely-dressed, sexy, and desirable. A thing to play with and desire to be.

Here’s the story, according to the LATimes. Mattell announced in February that it was soliciting input from kids in a global survey to determine which would be the next new Barbie, based on occupation. News anchor apparently won by a large margin.

With the tag line “A flair for journalism — and power pink!,” News Anchor Barbie is truly camera-ready, her blond hair in a blunt-cut ‘do and wearing a pink suit with black contrast taped lapels, a black camisole top, a light pink frilly skirt that ends well above the knee, and black high-heels accented with pink bows. (We hope it comes with a warning label about conducting interviews in the New York Jets locker room). She is also accessorized with a pink news folder, a news camera and a microphone.

Nice.

The feminizing of the TV news business began a long time ago, and it’s now seen as a great career for women. Many young gals begin the process with this in mind — “I want to be a news anchor” — and “communications’ schools are right there to help them. Many young women who enter the field are quite bright, but sadly, many aren’t.

When I was a news director — and I was one for many years — I always asked people looking for work why they wanted to do this. “Why did this business choose you?” I would inquire. Early in my career, it was mostly guys and they would generally respond about making a difference or changing the world. Many saw the occupation one of the few ways a single individual could make an impact. They were driven to do that.

In later years, however, most of the applicants were young women and nine in ten would say something along these lines, “One day in middle school the anchor at a local station came to my school, and I knew right then and there that this is what I wanted to do.” That is the honest truth.

So the business changed — in my life within — from one with people who wanted to make a difference to people who wanted to be on TV. Aren’t we proud?

So News Anchor Barbie was inevitable, an apropos model methinks.

Netflix joins a growing list of problems for local TV

Netflix and NBC do a dealNetflix and NBC Universal have announced a deal to bring copious amounts of quality on-demand programming to Netflix’s new “streaming only” subscription service. This is more evidence of the separation of content from source and more bad news for the broadcasting industry.

Netflix is a hugely popular movie service. I hear more young people rave about it than anything else in the new media realm, even Facebook. Now, in addition to movies, Netflix is offering TV shows from its library.

It hurts local television three ways:

  1. It escalates the model of separating content from source. This is the great disruptor of local TV, because TV stations get their sustenance from commercials placed next to those same programs. You can make the case that the networks will always keep first run programming for broadcasters, but that leads to the next problem.
  2. It supports the network’s perspective that affiliates need to pay them and pay them well for rights to those first run programs. Networks used to pay affiliates, but that’s now shifted 180 degrees. Affiliates negotiate fees from cable companies, and the networks want more. This strengthens their case.
  3. Netflix is enormously popular with a huge built-in loyalty factor and an audience. Unlike Google TV or Apple TV, which are basically vying for the same eyeballs, Netflix is already there. This accelerates the pace of the disruption, and affiliates have no time to respond.

Watch for deals coming with broadcast companies to stream local content via Netflix. The question is will Netflix demand advertiser-free content, the answer to which poses all kinds of other problems with the essential mass marketing model of broadcasting.

This is serious business, folks.

A lesson from Miley Cyrus on personal media

Regular readers know I’m a fan of J.D. Lasica’s term “personal media revolution” to describe the reality that anybody can be a media company using the disruptive technology of the Web. He first used the phrase in his important book, Darknet, Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation,” and it was appropriate, for Hollywood stands for control — control of content, control of people, control of message, control of everything. People have played the game Hollywood’s way for a very long time, but all of that — yes, ALL of that — is changing. Here’s a great example.

Miley Cyrus is a teenage superstar, and as such, she’s fair game for the Hollywood way, which includes using the publicity machine to fight the tabloids. It’s been that way since gossip columnists first came on the scene.

But the personal media revolution puts tools in her hands — remarkably simple to use tools — that allow her to fight back a different way, and that’s to go directly to the public with her own media. She has a YouTube channel for this and last night took on the tabloids all by herself. Take a look, if you’re interested.

The real beauty of this is that anybody can do the same thing, and that includes individuals and organizations. Hell, it even includes advertisers.

We’re just beginning to understand the value of all of this, and I need to always be reminding myself, so I’ll never take it for granted.

What credibility?

What the...?Continued attempts to justify the old journalism model against disruptive influences has reached the point for me where I can’t pay attention anymore. I just can’t. I’ve moved past it, and I’m unable to figure out, for the life of me, why others can’t or won’t. It’s honestly so pathetic and boring that I feel sorry for those still spouting this crap and even more for the traditional publications that publish these laments.

Can we please just turn the page?

The latest is the wailing of Leonard Downie Jr, the former executive editor of the Washington Post. He gets speaking engagements due to his resume, and last night, according to PaidContent.org, he was in London to deliver the prestigious James Cameron Memorial Lecture at London’s City University.

Downie criticised online aggregators for filling their websites “with news, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect — some would say steal — from other national and local news sites”.

The Huffington Post was founded in 2005 by socialite and columnist Arianna Huffington and earlier this year overtook the New York Times website in terms of traffic.

But Downie questioned how the blogging and aggregation site got this traffic. “Revealing photos of and stories about entertainment celebrities account for much of the highly touted web traffic to the Huffington Post… Though they purport to be a new form of journalism, these aggregators are primarily parasites living off journalism produced by others,”

I must say that it takes balls to go to London and spit at the practice of titillation to drive traffic. Londoners invented it, but that’s a minor issue. Earlier in the week, talented New York Times business reporter Peter Goodman left to go to work for The Huffington Post. Why? Because he was tired of the tired old view-from-nowhere, as Jay Rosen calls it. He wanted the freedom to express himself, and the Post gives that to him.

Parasites?” What are you smoking, Mr. Downie? Aggregators conveniently help people find your stuff and SEND YOU TRAFFIC!

Downie went on:

Credible, verifiable journalism about what is important in life is needed more than ever amidst the babble of the blogosphere and social networks.”

This is not only BS; it’s downright insulting. Let me say again that the decline in trust in the press began in 1976, at the very pinnacle of the glory of Mr. Downie’s paper, The Washington Post. Blogs didn’t come along until the turn of the century, and social networks came after that. So this vaunted “credible, verifiable journalism” of which Mr. Downie speaks is neither, at least not in the minds of the only people who matter — public it is supposed to serve. Every time you point your finger at others, Mr. Downie, you have three fingers pointing back at you.

It’s an old debating trick to put your opponent as far outside your framing of the issue as possible, but I don’t think that’s what’s happening here. People like Leonard Downie Jr. actually believe what they’re saying, and that’s what’s really so pathetic.

I keep thinking of Dylan. “Get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times, they are a-changin.”

Getting to the money with mobile

MobileOne of the really big trend stories of the year is the explosive growth in the portable media space. Apple got things going with the iPad, which will spawn a great many similar devices from other manufacturers. There was Google’s Android operating system that ignited sales of a new line of phones, and Apple’s iPhone 4. The mobile device space is hot, and along with it, content and applications that can run on the devices.

While Silicon Valley and other technology centers are in high gear in the portable space, legacy media businesses are reacting to this, that or the other thing in an effort to not get blind sided, like most of us were with the Web in the mid 90s. This is why Gordon Borrell has organized a conference next week here in Dallas that will examine every aspect of the mobile world, especially as it relates to local advertising and the ability of media companies to make money.

Gordon BorrellMaking serious money with mobile hasn’t really happened yet, but coupons and deals appear to be the sweet spots. I caught up with Gordon this week to get his feedback on 2010, the economy and next week’s conference.

1. 2010 is turning out to be a pretty good year. What’s the “story” of the year?

In terms of an individual event, I’d have to say it was Google’s purchase of AdMob for $750 million back in May. To me, this was harkening back to when Bethlehem Steel began branching out and buying a major shipyard and then a railroad back in 1913. Think of all the ships and rail cars built in the ensuing decades, especially during World Wars I and II. “Search” is the steel of our time, and “mobile” is the future transportation industry. Google has cornered both.

2. You’ve kind of switched your thinking a little bit about display advertising. If you add “targeting,” does that make it work? Is it that the advertising really works or is it that advertisers will pay for targeted advertising?

Creativity is a good quality to possess if you want to remain in the business of forecasting. Until a year ago we were forecasting a decline in banner ads, which pissed everyone off who was selling banner ads. It was like saying, “In a few years, your kids will be ugly.” The backlash was huge, but we had a lot of evidence to support our theory. When we took a closer look, we were forecasting big increases in what we called “direct” online advertising, which meant ads directed to individuals (as opposed to ads thrown on a website just to be seen by nebulous “eyeballs”). We found that while run-of-site banners were in steep decline, targeted banners were gaining steam. Our job is to provide actionable insights to the industry, so we recrafted the message about banners: General banners are indeed in decline, but stop getting pissed off about that and start finding ways to deliver targeted banners by Zip code, gender, year of birth, or other valuable demo. Most local media sites have at least 40% of their traffic from outside the market, so you’re deceiving local advertisers if you’re leading them to believe all unique visitors come from potential buyers.

3. The real issue is what’s coming down-the-road. Does continued weakness in the economy give you pause about 2011 and beyond? What are we look at for the next few years?

Oh, God yes. My vice president of research has consistently been spot-on with his forecasts, and lately I’ve been thinking Disney should hire him as the voice of Eeyore. Just last week he said, “There may be no recovery. Ever.” Think of that. The population is no longer booming, and everything seems to be getting smaller and cheaper. Jobs are evaporating, and media control is shifting from the plutocrats to knaves. Still, I believe that disruption and change always creates opportunity. It’s just that you have to be a lot smarter and stay awake a little longer each day to be able to remain in the game. There will ALWAYS be a market for information; it’s just that we can no longer rely on monopolies like multimillion-dollar printing presses or FCC licenses to keep us in the media business and protect us.

4. Obviously, with this upcoming conference, you’ve shifting a lot of attention to mobile. What’s that all about? I still don’t see a lot of people making much money here. Is this still the place to be?

Well that’s sort of like taking six seconds from a hockey game and saying, “Hey, why is Gretzky skating away from the puck?” In the seventh second, you’d see the puck crossing right in front of him, and of course that lightning-quick slap shot and then the blue lights. There’s not a lot of money in mobile today unless you count “deals” and coupons, but it’s time to skate to that spot. Fools will do one of two things: They will rush in with everything they’ve got, or they will wait because there’s no money in it today. The winners will lay out stakes, spend a lot of time figuring out the timing and strategy, and then invest appropriately, in a very aggressive but timed fashion.

5. Tell us a bit about the conference. What’s the “don’t want to miss” session and why?

For the reasons I mentioned in the previous question, it’s extremely important to get the timing right. That’s why we put together this conference. The killer session is going to be the opening keynote with Clark Gilbert. He’s left the academic world that preaches about media disruption and has taken the reins of Deseret Media as the CEO, overseeing The Deseret News, KSL-TV and two radio stations. In his first few months, he took charge and positioned the company for the future: He laid off 40% of the newspaper’s editorial staff, hired a top-notch digital team, and bought a mobile “deals” company. He’s got more than two dozen people working on the digital team for KSL-TV. Tell me a station that has that many people. Now here’s the kicker: The average TV station’s website has an 18% share of the local Internet traffic and is in second place to the local newspaper. KSL’s site it a distant No. 1 in Salt Lake City with a 62% share (according to the latest Media Audit figures). It’s mobile site is in No. 4 spot and closing in fast on the others. And since it’s really all about the money in the end, here’s the big kicker: KSL will bill more Internet ad sales than any other station in the country this year. And it’s in the No. 29 DMA! There will be a helluva lot of people paying rapt attention to Clark when he speaks. I’ll be one of them.

Got your ticket? I’ve got mine. There’s still room, so click on this link for instructions. Hopefully, I’ll see you there.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel Newsletter)