IFC Make Media Matter Panel, Paley Center For Media, New York
April 30, 2009
For whatever reason, I thought yesterday's IFC "Make Media Matter" panel was at 12:30 p.m. When I revisited hopstop.com to confirm my navigation, I peeked into my Google calendar and yelped "crack!!" and smacked myself when I saw it was actually set to begin at noon. This was no good, since the clock read 11:55 and I hadn't yet had my coffee. I bolted out the door, flew to the subway, and made it to the Paley Center for Media in a ball of sweat, having survived two coughing assaults (yes, two people coughed directly on me), just seconds before the panel started. They were supposed to debate national vs. international news coverage of current events. Did they?
I found the one remaining seat at a table with the always-kind Ryan Lawler, Senior Editor at Contentinople, and between Hamilton Nolan, Gawker reporter and Hannah Elnan of Elyse Cheney Literary Associates. The room was tightly packed in an uncomfortable way. I could almost smell Michael Musto, we were all so close to each other.
This wasn't quite as electric a panel as the first one I attended, where William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, turned purple, and the passion of the panelists' opinions jumped like swine flu from human to human. I'd characterize this one as more anecdotal, with Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnistand best-selling author, waxing nostalgic andpunching her boldface-typed statements with her hands. I was expecting more from Josh Rushing, Al Jazeera English reporter. The most incendiary statement he made was at the end, when he proclaimed that America's TV news SUCKS. His career takes him all over the world and finds himself most information-starved when he's holed up in a hotel in the states -- where it's guaranteed that there will be no BBC World, CNN World, or Al Jazeera English on the tube. According to Josh, we've isolated ourselves in our own view of the world, not seeing how the rest of the world sees the world (in a news sense -- well, I guess in any sense).
"We're the only country that doesn't teach media literacy in public schools." This might shake me more if it were clear what "media literacy" means. Seriously, what does media literacy mean -- watching/reading/absorbing a diverse portfolio of info? Or literally, learning how to write for media channels?
"Europeans love(d) Obama" -- Katty Kay, BBC political reporter, in response to the question of whether or not the Euro press has given Obama a free pass. She went further and said that there was such a surplus of viral anti-American sentiment during the Bush years that Europe was wanting to fall in love with America again -- that they saw Obama as "a sea change for America's relationship with the rest of the world."
This prompted Gideon Yago, moderator and host of The IFC Media Project, to ask Rushing, who didn't talk enough if you ask me, if he thought the Obama election has been successful in changing America's relationship with the Arab world. To this Rushing said empathically and confidently, "Yes." And that Malawians' top skirt purchase has Obama's face on them. What a fluffy example of relationship-building. Yago read my mind and followed up with, "Fashion aside, are there any real metrics to support the success of the relationship?" "We don't care," flipped Rushing. "We are not in the business of caring about the relationship; we're in the business of reporting on it." The topic that had the entire panel talking all over each other was torture memos, 9/11 reports, and "independent investigations." Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary for George W. Bush, revealed his patriotic side, aiming for "I trust the judicial system" platitudes rather than offering his opinion on investigating 9/11 and torture policy. Josh Rushing also skirted the issue and gave a lukewarm moot statement, "If we don't learn from the mistakes we made with 9/11, we're destined to repeat them."
Shocker of all shockers. the panel tackled the question of "will journalism continue" in the digital age, where the digital model rapid-fires new headlines at the reader, feeding their "more, faster, now" mentality. Isn't anyone grasping that changing the model is like starting a new business? And when you start a new business, aren't you expected to lose money before you make it? I want to see a news outlet Just Do It like Nike. I also want us to stop catering to the ADD monster we've created. Instead of teaching people to absorb quality, historically and factually correct news items, the news media is reactionary, playing keepup. WHY? Since when is accepting the status quo hard-hitting? It's not even that new news is happening that fast, it's that the news media feels they have to create new news that fast -- that's why everything is so over-sensationalized, given an entertainment cape, and it's offered once (war) only to be replaced in the next breath by entertainment (dog floating on an ice chunk in the Passaic River).
I want to leave you with questions based on the panelists' responses to Yago's moderating:
Would you be more open to setting your client up with an interview with Peggy Noonan from The Wall Street Journal or Peggy Noonan from Peggy Noonan.com?
Do the news media deserve a government bailout - and if yes, who would you choose to get top priority in $$ dispersion?
Regarding an audience query, "Are the underlying economic issues causing [news] coverage to be more extreme and aggressive," Tina Brown, The Daily Beast founder and Editor in Chief, answered, "Of course, who breaks the news first gets the leap in [online] traffic." Would you rather know the breaking headline statement or the entire story?
AND -- should journalists be writing for traffic or to deliver fair and unbiased news stories? OK, sorry, that was blatantly leading. I can't wait to hear what you think!