Leading With Bleeding

I worked in several hyphenated markets during my 28-years as a TV news manager and also in markets with more than one population center. This produces a phenomenon that I referenced in my essay 20-years ago, The Lizard on America’s Shoulder. The problem is this: when newsrooms cover numerous population centers, their newscasts provide a false sense of danger, because every story seems to be bad news, especially in what we call “the A-block,” the opening segment of news. To my knowledge, there’s never been a study of this phenomenon, but I think we’d find that the practice produces a frightened populace.

Let’s face it: bad news is easy to cover. It’s exciting and works well with the hyperbole demanded by marketing, whether it’s within the newscast itself or in promotional announcements for the newscast. The old saying is “if it bleeds, it leads,” but in contemporary newscasts, it often goes beyond just the lead, and that makes people nervous (like the Lizard of C.S. Lewis’s Great Divorce).

What we really ought to talk about, however, is what’s happening with social media, for this nervousness created by constant exposure to the darkness of life is much worse on Facebook than any broadcast newscast. Firstly, we now have the news-gathering process made public, including everything from the original dispatch of police on through the many iterations that exist prior to the story’s finished product (the newscast). Newspapers are in on this, too. Secondly, we have friends who are passing along links that they think might interest you, and very often these represent that same darkness. Then there are click-baiters, those God-awful sites that take an old story – and some are very old – and break every paragraph into a page, leaving the payoff to the hype until the very end. Blend in rampant politics offered by both amateurs and professionals, and there’s little wonder we’re all agitated and at each other’s throats.

Folks, this has a psychological impact, and it’s probably my top reason for not watching local news anymore.

The truth of the matter is that nobody is going to do anything about what we see, read, and watch, because “the media” still functions within a theatrical paradigm and not as invited guests to our individual parties. The web is not a mechanism that really caters to mass marketing, but it’s all that people in media management know, so we’ll just have to put up with it for awhile longer. Everything will eventually shift to pull, and those who only know push are going to find themselves on the outside looking in.

And, if they’re not going to do anything about the mass anxiety they create, then we’ll have to do something about that ourselves. Take note of what you consume and act accordingly.

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

Journalism’s “post-truth” era

ChaosThere has been much public weeping and gnashing of teeth by professional journalism observers in the wake of the industry’s (is it an industry or a trade?) loss in November with the election of Donald Trump. “Journalistic handwringing” has become one of my favorite current phrases. Everybody has their opinion about what happened that resulted in the press discovering it was far removed from the everyday people who make up the interior of the U.S. I’ve expressed my views, but I want to think out loud today about the latest revelation of the journalism world – that we’ve entered the “post-truth era.”

What exactly does post-truth mean? The Oxford Dictionary made it their 2016 “Word of the Year” and defined it thusly: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I think this definition serves journalism well, for we’ve already agreed that “transparency is the new objectivity.” Objectivity, it seems, was never really objective and hasn’t been since Creel Committee social engineers first wrote of “Manufacturing Consent.”

However, “post-truth” is terribly misleading as it relates to what’s happening beneath it, and that is that we’re on a learning curve for a new cultural era in the West. It’s not “post-truth;” it’s post-modern, which means we cannot rely on any single, top-down historical narrative anymore. I’ve been following this and reporting on it for fifteen years. Here are thoughts I expressed in an essay from December of 2002:

The digital era, created by the logic of a modernist world, has done far more than simply empower young people with knowledge. It is the force accelerating an enormous cultural shift and leaving broadcast news organizations in a very fragile position. Like Dorothy, Pomos have cast aside the curtain and revealed the Wizard for what he really is — a profit-motivated entity that they believe has fooled people for decades.

I’ve been predicting blowback against this the entire time I’ve been covering the beat, and the election of Donald Trump is certainly the fruit of this cultural shift. Why? Because we’re all deeply frightened about what it means. The uncertainty scares us. We feel unprepared. We stand before progress, as Henry Adams did in Paris over a century ago, when he wrote, “Chaos (change) is the way of nature. Order is the dream of man.”

So it isn’t really “post-truth,” because truth has historically been determined by those with the power to decide what it is, and that power (knowledge) is now being spread horizontally. The web itself – with its associative links – is constructed to function as a machine of deconstruction, the postmodern practice of slicing grand narratives to pieces in order to reveal the biases therein. In the end, the truth of history is revealed for what it really is: the subjective views of the writer, and we’re going to have to get used to something different. We’re going to have to start thinking in terms of multiple narratives and do our best to find information regarding each, so that we can decide for ourselves which is more believable and why. That’s why I say we’re on a learning curve that will be fraught with mistakes along with discoveries. Can we exist in such a world? We have no choice but to accept, study, and learn.

For example, someone recently asked me for “objective resources” on the Middle East, so that they could study points of view other than purely the Israeli narrative. I responded that there are virtually no “objective resources” anymore, and that the best we could do regarding this particular issue is include Mondoweiss in our daily news reading. The slogan of Mondoweiss is “Bringing the news to you that no one else will,” and it is serious journalism that offers alternative views – those outside the Zionist propaganda machine, hasbara – so the people can explore multiple narratives and be better informed. This is what “news” will be in our postmodern world, and we’ll all be much better off for it.

We are most certainly in a culture war, but this one transcends right versus left. Those two terms have become largely meaningless as they battle it out for supremacy throughout the land. It’s really modernism versus postmodernism, logic and reason versus participation, top-down versus horizontal, and it will change the world forever.

It has already begun.

Two major online news factors for young people

pew-readersNew Pew Research reveals that young people prefer to READ news online rather than watch it. This is being presented as a revelation (Younger adults prefer to get their news in text, not video, according to new data from Pew Research), but it’s really just another example of news organizations’ history of not paying attention to reality. The new report doesn’t tell the whys, and doesn’t even speculate. Please allow me to give you two important reasons why young people prefer reading news to watching it:

Over fifteen years ago, then J. Walter Thompson CEO Bob Jeffrey said, “Time is the new currency.” Many of us at the time applied the idea to online media, especially after we learned that viewers were using DVRs to avoid commercials, and the not-so-secret reason was that they “didn’t have time” for commercials. Therefore, the first reason young people would rather read news that watch it is you can do the former a whole lot faster. Don’t try to dazzle me with your storytelling genius; just give me the facts, so that I can determine (for myself) if I wish to explore further.

The reason media companies prefer video is the nice ROI on ads. Madison Avenue likes video, and that means media companies do, too. Unfortunately, nobody in either of those two chairs gives a ripple chip about what the audience might think and don’t think twice about irritating those viewers with pre-roll ads. Therefore, the second reason young people prefer reading to viewing is the annoyance and wasted time of advertising that is meant for a different medium.

All of this is doubly significant on mobile, which is THE go-to platform of young people (and beyond).

There are other factors. For example, prime time for news remains the hours at work, and the disruption to the office of someone watching a video is untenable.

Many of us have known for a very long time that news clips with attached (or detached) pre-rolls wouldn’t work to grow revenue, just like we knew that recorded newscasts on demand wouldn’t be a significant revenue source either. This is the Web, people, not TV. We’re not on a stage with a captive audience. We still need to get over ourselves and start honoring those eyeballs that we need so badly. And PLEASE can we stop feeding them ads that were created for TV, not the Web?

Passages: Put a fork in me, media. I’m done!

terrywhole2As I approach my 8th decade on the planet this summer, I’ve decided to move along in my professional life to something a bit different. I’d like to share it all with you, my friends.

It’s a heady thing when people choose to read the things you write, and I’ve always been extremely grateful and humbled by that. I’ve been writing The Pomo Blog for 15 years now, and we’ve covered a lot of ground in the posts and the essays. I’ve organized groups of bloggers, helped write the book on aggregation, helped originate the idea of unbundled media, wrote about data long before anybody could grasp the meaning, innovated the concepts of Continuous News (which is now everywhere), local ad networks, and advertising as content (aka “content marketing”), and identified things that are still influencing media and far beyond, such as the concepts of spectrum within spectrum and the evolving user paradigm. I’m also the only person who continues to study postmodern journalism and its consequences for tomorrow.

And for all of that, I’m broke.

And you know why? Because the industry that I’ve been trying to help for the last 15 years, local broadcasting, doesn’t give a ripple chip about any of it. Oh, the people in the trenches certainly do, but not those who live in the towers and write the paychecks, including mine. I’m tired of beating a dead horse, and that’s what local TV has become (thanks, Harry). What used to be a thriving industry of innovation, public service, and people who wanted to change the world has become the lifeless bones of an aging and smelly corporate carcass whose owners specialize in sucking the marrow to milk whatever profit is left. These wealthy bean counters, lawyers, and “managers” beat the drums of self-righteousness and the law, while picking the bones through cost-cutting, consolidation, and clout. Am I bitter? Of course I am, but not because I’ve been rejected, but because I actually believed they would want the industry to survive and thrive the disruptions to its core. That’s not the case, however, for the true inspiration of the people who run these companies is a comfy retirement, and the pathway is happy shareholders – the people who care ONLY about profits. Those people are also a part of the 1 percent, each seeking their own comfy retirement, too. I guess I’m angry with myself for ever believing something different was possible.

And so, I don’t care anymore now, and I’ve chosen to say “f**k it.” Effective immediately, I’m removing media and new media from the focus of my attention and moving on into other parts of culture, especially religion. I’m unsubscribing from all the newsletters, RSS feeds, and anything that has anything to do with media, advertising, etc. I’ve finished a new book, “How Jesus Joined the GOP” and while it’s being edited, I’m searching for the right agent and publisher. I was responsible for executing Pat Robertson’s plan to use television to “change America for Jesus,” and I know things about that process that are both fascinating and frightening, especially as it relates to today’s political landscape.

But the most remarkable observation to me is that I have studied cultural postmodernism through a different lens than those who’ve studied it in the name of “the church” and yet we’ve come to similar conclusions. I believe I have a lot to offer this world, and that’s my goal. There may not be much in the way of profit for me financially, but I’m used to that by now. What’s clear to me today is that life itself is changing before our eyes here in the 21st Century, and it goes far beyond the limiting scope of media. That’s where I want to be and need to be. It’s calling me – quite loudly, I think – and that’s where I’m going.

There are incredible events taking place in the world of spiritual understanding. It’s a transformation brought on by the same energy and innovations that are changing media, the kind of stuff that will shock and reinvent religion’s role in culture for the better. Its exhilarating and filled with people who really care about what’s happening. They need (and I hope they want) my eyes and the knowledge I’ve acquired as a cultural observer.

So I hope you’ll join me on this journey, but if you don’t, that’s okay. I’m very proud of the work I’ve done since I left the TV News business in 1998, despite the lack of proof that it has meant anything to the industry that was my life for so long. I’m alright with that, because the end of that story hasn’t been written yet, and who really knows where anyone will end up in the sands of tomorrow? I only know one thing for certain: I have touched The Unbroken Web, and that is worth any price I have to pay in this life.

May God bless and keep you all.

Broadcasting’s disruption on display in Raleigh

NBCWRALThe affiliate switch in the Raleigh market is BIG news and yet another harbinger of things to come for broadcasting. It doesn’t matter who initiated what in this remarkable event. WRAL-TV claims they did, because NBC is the best positioned broadcast network for the future. However, many observers, such as Al Tompkins at Poynter, are blaming the tough fiscal stance CBS is taking in affiliate renewal negotiations.

The switch was prompted by a disagreement between WRAL and CBS about how much revenue paid to WRAL from from cable companies should go to the network.

It would be easy to dismiss this as just another financial consideration on the bumpy road broadcasters are trudging, but that doesn’t go deep enough. The truth is that the broadcasting business model itself is hopelessly borked, and these kinds of events are simply guideposts along the way to its inevitable collapse. Nobody wants to talk about it, least of all owners, because there’s real money in maintenance of the status quo or at least the appearance thereof.

Local television is falling off the same cliff that destroyed newspapers, but it hasn’t shown up on the bottom line yet, because ever-increasing retransmission consent fees have shielded it from reality. There is no way it can continue for long. Consumers will simply refuse to pay for it when there are cheaper alternatives available. Mass marketing continues to take blow after blow from more cost-effective digital marketing, which is actually direct marketing disguised as mass marketing. Again, nobody wants to admit this, so we all just move forward basing our value on false assumptions of an archaic model. It helps no one except the executives charged with maintaining the hunky dory appearance.

How is anyone surprised that CBS wants top compensation for its top-rated programs? One day, CBS will be a kind of cable network, because it can gain the kinds of program compensation it deserves instead of splitting that money with local affiliates. TV program distribution doesn’t require broadcast affiliates anymore. Netflix and Amazon both won Golden Globes this year. This is all being forced by consumers who are now free to protest the gluttony of 5-minute commercial breaks in “their” programs. Are we really so foolish as to think the era of audience captivity is still moving forward? So much has been written about how the people formerly known as the advertisers are now functioning as media companies themselves that it’s hard for me to believe there’s a single person left who believes the ad-supported content model remains viable as a growth strategy.

The ONLY thing local broadcasters have left is news, and it’s never been more important to be number one. These locally-produced programs historically have generated half of the typical station’s revenue. But half the revenue will never equate to 100% of the expenses, so even the viability of quality local TV news is problematic. There will be cutbacks galore, and some stations just won’t make it. 15 years ago, I suggested stations might want to spin off their news departments into wholly-owned subsidiaries and let them find their own economic justifications. At the time, this would’ve also given local news efforts an opportunity to actually compete with web companies instead of relying on the brands of the TV stations for complete sustenance. Competing as a TV station online has never made sense, and yet that’s as far as most have gotten or will ever get.

In conclusion, the event Friday in Raleigh is stunning no matter how you look at it. To me, however, it’s just further evidence of a predictable future that doesn’t look so bright for my many friends and colleagues still toiling in the trenches.

And to paraphrase George Carlin, “These are the kinds of thoughts that kept me out of the corporate board rooms.”