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Ed Driscoll

Old Media Spots Icebergs, Orders Deck Chairs Rearranged

July 23rd, 2010 - 10:16 pm

At David Horowitz’s Newsreal site, Kathy Shaidle writes that newspapers are obsessively focusing on how their delivery systems have cratered their sales, because the epistemic closure of their worldview prevents them from modifying their content to better suit the ideological diversity of their readers:

(Imagine if McDonald’s thought of itself as being in the styrofoam container business, or FedEx thought it was in the “buying lots of big trucks and painting them the same shade of brown” business. Although don’t laugh — similar counterintuitive schemes can work for a long time, as long as there’s no alternative: sure, movie theaters show movies, but they make their their real profits from that 10,000% marked up popcorn…)

Anyway, Godin doesn’t address what’s obvious to NewsReal readers, however: the average newspaper’s ideological blindness and group think.

So add liberal bias to his equation. And remember that most Americans (that is, the newspapers’ intended customers) identify themselves as “conservative,” and have done so for decades.

Now you’re left with the uninspiring spectacle of a tiny gang of rich, powerful people — supposedly society’s “best and brightest” — clinging desperately to a hundred year old business model that’s dependent upon the destruction of the same trees they’re always telling the rest of us to “save.”

As I keep telling you: the New York Times will close its doors within the next five to ten years.

Oh I dunno — there maybe enough wealthy Manhattan dowagers who can’t figure out how that newfangled Interwebs contraption works to keep the increasingly appropriately named Gray Lady on life support for a while. But concurrently, another legacy media may be reaching obsolesce as well — particularly as a news source.

In his “Five Questions” segment with Steve Green  airing tomorrow on PJM Political, James Lileks claims that once Mad Men is off the air, he’s done with TV. I suspect there’s a bit of hyperbole in that statement, but I can definitely see the truth in it — the obsolesce of television is becoming increasingly more apparent every day.

Particularly the 6:30 national nightly news, another august institution that peaked around the era of Mad Men. At Ricochet, James explores “Katie Couric and the future of Evening News:”

If you watch network news – and if you do, give my regards to the other 17 people – this may be a shock: Katie Couric’s future unclear at CBS.

This past spring, CBS News president Sean McManus and executive vice-president Paul Friedman discussed whether to try to bring an end to what may be the last great experiment in network news: Katie Couric, anchorwoman. Though her reported $15 million annual contract is not up until next June, one idea that was floated was for CBS to buy out the remainder of Couric’s contract this September and put in someone new this fall, according to people familiar with the conversation.

She might ankle over to NBC, or CNN, where she will be paid great sloshing buckets of money again. What was the reason for the failure? Did she smother her perky sunny nature with ersatz gravitas? Plain ol’ sexism? (Ain’t gonna believe nothin’ lessin’ a man says it.)

Or perhaps the entire concept of the evening news, with Chet or Uncle Walt or Waco Dan handing down the stone tablets is a relic of the days when news was something they worked on all day while the soaps were going on, and delivered to us while we digested the pot roast. Last time I watched evening news with any regularity was in the early 90s, while working in DC – it seemed like an in-house channel, and told you how the rest of the country was hearing what you and your clever friends were talking about at lunch. But even then the model was fraying, thanks to CNN and Headline News.

Any hope for evening news, or will it be sitting around a bar with Newspapers in ten years, talking about the good old days?

James writes that growing up, “we were an NBC family, possibly because my dad liked to laugh at Irving R. Levine. The combination of the nasal deadpan and the jaunty red bow tie struck him as deeply amusing.”

And like the boys at Sterling Cooper, NBC anchors, even the ones not as nattily attired as Levine, had their deeply-ingrained prejudices and fears of the future to come:

In his book The Making of the President 1964 (published a year later), Theodore H. White spake the conventional wisdom for the Ages: “This was a new thing in American conventions–not a meeting, not a clash, but a coup d’etat.”This sort of talk, which was not confined to opinion columns, understandably aggrieved the Goldwaterites. And at one point during the convention, a journalist ended up literally cross-wise of the Goldwater kids. NBC correspondent John Chancellor had stationed himself and his camera crew at a spot on the floor of the Cow Palace, the San Francisco venue that was home to the convention. When a pro-Goldwater demonstration broke out and began moving its way across the floor, Chancellor, asserting a heretofore unknown journalistic privilege, wouldn’t move out of the way.

The Goldwater kids surrounded him, shouting. Someone went to get the security guards, who asked Chancellor to move on the grounds that he was disrupting a private gathering. He refused, and they carried him out bodily. “Here we go down the middle aisle,” he breathlessly told NBC viewers. “I’ve been promised bail, ladies and gentlemen, by my office. This is John Chancellor, somewhere in custody.”

Today, this entire incident seems like a parody out of a Christopher Guest movie–Waiting for Goldwater, perhaps, or Best in Convention. But in the world of the mainstream media, nobody was laughing. It was universally believed that Chancellor had nearly met his end at the hands of an angry mob. The Chancellor spectacle contributed to the general media portrait of Goldwater and his candidacy as a dangerous reactionary explosion that needed to be bested at all costs.

Well, now we know where Michael Moore got his shtick.

Flash-forward sixty years, and very little has changed in that legacy media — which sees the future — and it frightens the hell out of them. While Ted Turner once bemoaned the “Jesus freaks” who worked for his old network in its heyday, these days, there are no atheists in the ratings cratered foxholes of CNN. Not with a headline like this: “CNN Host Calls for Crackdown on ‘Bloggers’ in Wake of Sherrod Incident: ‘Something’s Going to Have to be Done Legally’:”

Anchors Kyra Phillips and John Roberts discussed the “mixed blessing of the internet,” and agreed that there should be a crackdown on anonymous bloggers who disparage others on the internet.

Huh. Why would CNN’s John Roberts suddenly fear the Blogosphere?

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