On Sunday, we did the opening session at RTNDA in Las Vegas.
The RTNDA made a conscious decision to embrace the ‘New Journalism” and everyone on stage, in one way or another was a blogger.. or vlogger.
The ‘Old Power Establishment’ does not like this one iota.
Just as when the printing press was invented, the Catholic Church did not like that suddenly anyone could write, or publish.. or even read. Up until then it was they who had a monopoly on ‘books’. Who were these ‘upstarts’. (For a great book on this, read The Cheese and the Worms by Carlo Ginzburg). For a long time, they were so annoyed that peasants caught reading or writing could be burned alive.
We don’t go in for that much these days. We flame people instead. But Brian Williams came pretty close in his anger over the sudden literacy of the peasants last week in a speech to journalism students at NYU. Said Williams:
“You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years. On the Internet, no one knows if you’ve been to Ramadi or you’ve just been to Brooklyn and just have an opinion about Ramadi.”
Well Brian, welcome to the world of a democratized medium and free press.
Hurts, doesn’t it?
Blogger and journalist Allison Hantschel wrote a great response, but lemme throw in my 2 cents.
Many years ago, I was a producer for CBS News. A lot of my job was working a story and getting it ready for the ‘talent’ (and I use the word loosely) to show up on location. I would be there for days with the crew, shooting the footage, doing some interviews and preparing for the arrival of the ‘talent’. They generally flew in and flew out in the same day.
On one particuarly memorable story, I had spent almost a week getting a piece on homelessness (when this was a relatively new issue), 95% done when the ‘talent’ showed up. (No names, but the ‘talent’ had been a White House correspondent for CBS News). The ‘talent’ arrived on the location and said to me, (and I kid you not), “what do you think we should say?”
I looked at the ‘talent’ and said, “why don’t you say what we always say: “it’s criminal, that here in the wealthiest country in the world, people should have to live like this”.
“That’s good”, he said, “write that down”.
So I did.
Then he took my lines and sat in the back of the Lincoln we had rented for him and recorded the line into a small tape recorder that led to an earpiece. We could only shoot the ‘stand up’ from one side, so you could not see the wires.
We then proceeded to shoot 30 takes of the ‘stand up’.
Walk… pause.. walk… talk.
“It is criminal that here…” (Pause for effect), “in the wealthiest country in the world… (Pause for effect) people should have to live like this.”
We did it 30 times.
Then the ‘talent’ went to the hotel.
When I read that Katie Couric (shocking!) had some producer lift copy from the Wall Street Journal that said “I remember when I was a kid” I am not surprised. This is how they ALL work!
They are actors.
Highly paid actors.
And that is all.
And when an actor like Brian Williams goes to Ramadi, not speaking a word of Arabic, and probably having only the most superficial understanding of the history or the culture of the country, what is the value? Zero? Close… I am sure.
What would be, do you think, the value of a Chinese actor/journalist coming to New York and not speaking a word of English. How much could they hope to understand? Next to nothing? Close.. I am sure.
Now, there are people who actually live in Iraq, speak Arabic, know what they are talking about. And now with the Internet we can hear their voices and talk to them and get some real information with some real value.
How many people in Iraq do you think have video cameras? 100,000? Do you think they are shooting what is happening to their country on a daily basis? You bet they are. In four years, how much of that footage have you ever seen? None? Would that be a good guess?
Of course, we don’t pay them millions (literally) of dollars a year to ‘work’ 22 minutes a night reading what someone else has written for them.
Maybe that is why we can trust what they have to say.
And here’s a good ending to this story, (and I kid you not, 100% true). My now ex (who had heard this story like a thousand times), used to be a writer for ABC News. One morning she called me up and said she had a special surprise for me at 7:30. Tune in.
At 7:30 am, Morton Dean, the ‘talent’ introduced a story about homelessness in America. He turned to the camera and said:
“It is criminal, that here, in the wealthiest country in the world, people should have to live like this”.
And, in memory of Kurt Vonnegut… so it goes.