Couric v. Halberstam

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David Halberstam – Journalist

I am about 1/3 of the way through David Halberstam’s last book, The Coldest Winter, a history of the Korean War.

Halberstam was a true journalist, and as I read, the tragedy of his death and his loss to the world becomes all the more poigniant.

The book is a magnificent study, not just of Korea, but also of the abuse of power and the danger of those who gather unquestioned authority about them. In the case of Korea, Halberstam’s nemesis is MacArthur, but the lessons could as easily be applied to Bush and Co.

What astonishes me as I read The Coldest Winter is that Halberstam produced this all by himself! One man with a word processor. And you have a magnificent work of history, journalism and social commentary.

Upon reading it, I am forced to wonder why the world of print journalism is capable of generating such excellence from just one man, while television ‘journalism’, with its thousands and thousands of employees, and hundreds of millions of dollars and endless hours of air time is not capable of delivering anything remotely similar.

Not even remotely.

Below, a verbatim quote from Katie Couric, the $14 million dollar a year journalist on her visit to the White House:

“Visiting the White House is always a humbling experience. I’m always in awe of the history those walls have witnessed. And I was impressed by the respect President Bush has for the place. He even told one of our producers “Straighten your tie, young man. You’re in the White House.” I loved that. ” -Katie Couric 2007

And here is Halberstam on MacArthur:

“MacArthur himself had shown up in Pyongyang right after the First Cav arrived there. “Any celebrities here to greet me?” he had asked when he stepped off his plane. “Where is Kim Buck Tooth?” he joked, in mocking reference to Kim Il Sung, the seemingly defeated North Korean Communist leader. Then he asked anyone in the Cav who had been with the unit from the beginning to step forward. Of the roughly two hundred I men assembled, four took that step; each had been wounded at some point. Then MacArthur got back on his plane for the flight back to Tokyo. He did not spend the night in Korea; in fact he did not spend the night there during the entire time he commanded. ” -David Halberstam 2007

I will not denegrate Halberstam by even pretending to make a comparison.

If we took the complete transcript of The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and published it as a book it would belong in the EASY READING or CHILDRENS LITERATURE section – if we called it literature at all.

There is something wrong with television news, and it’s not about holding the line to keep the VJs out. There is nothing to defend here.

7 responses to “Couric v. Halberstam

  1. And yet watch Alistair Cooke’s series America, or recall his radio talks on the BBC…it can be done.

  2. Amen. Katie Couric has always been a lightweight, but in many ways, that’s not her fault. The Today show is supposed to be a lightweight show, so she was doing her job at NBC. CBS set her up to fail simply by selecting her for the Evening News job.

    Not that the Evening News was much of a serious program in recent years. Nor has any other TV news outlet been except for a few things on PBS.

    What is it about TV news that cheapens the whole journalistic effort? Is it the money? Newspaper people get paid a lot less than the faux journalists on TV. Does that make them more dedicated, or does it just weed out the weasels naturally?

  3. We were always taught and told…. TV News is written to a 6th Grade level. It is true.

    The term “Broadcasting” is quickly becoming an ancient term. In the past, broadcast TV news had to dumb down their written scripts…to a 6th grade level….because they were broadcasting to ALL of society. Some viewers were well educated. Many others, perhaps the majority, were not. Children like me, grew up watching the Viet Nam war on the TV news. Perhaps it was a good thing for America – to have TV news made simple to understand.

    “Broad” casting.

    In the past model, it was necessary because it was there were only a few TV stations, and they actually served the “public” as a whole – as a society. For better or for worse.

    Now, with the internet, and explosion of information outlets, networks are still figuring out whether or not a “Broad” approach to packaging their product is the way to move forward. Certainly, they have branded themselves that way…over decades. They have the infrastructure. So I suspect they will continue to offer a more simple, 6th grade level approach to presenting the news…in order for the majority of people, young and old, to comprehend news quickly.

    They will likely create new brands on their websites… Political, International, Feature, Sports, etc… and delve into more complicated content presentations there. For niche audiences.

    They should.

    They are and should grow into utilizing VJ model news gathering… but still set themselves apart by providing the highest quality video news gathering tools as well. (High production.)

    They should continue to “Broad” cast. The more people they reach, the more advertising they sell. They will broadcast…by providing higher quality niche content. But nobody is sure that will work. Niche providers will be able to focus more.

    Network news might simply become a final filter…. a place where the majority of people gather to get a view of the “Broader” picture.

  4. or maybe the future is in narrowcast? Delivering niche audiences the news they want, and are willing to pay for.

    Works, in a fashion, for Michael Yon :

    http://michaelyon-online.com/wp/how-this-project-is-funded

  5. Do you think networks and established local affiliates can provide niche content? Should they? Or should they just gather up the info from other niche providers…pay them…and become a central clearing house?

    Interesting future ahead. Very interesting.

  6. This is a website I found today. It is the democratization of internet blogging.

    Michael might be intersted in looking at it. Substitute video. For reference/ comparison to the CTZN.TV idea.

    http://corp.helium.com/cms/whatishelium

  7. Eric:

    I’m sure networks would love to become central clearing houses, whether on the YouTube, Facebook, or Google model.

    Media brands are more actively creating constituencies for themselves. Not niches exactly, but groups of “like-minded people”. The guardian.com – runs a daily ad on its front page: “FIND A DATE – like-minded people at Guardian soulmates”.

    “You read the Guardian? I like you already”.

    Michael Yon is doing the same thing – his constituency of supporters is just more defined. But Michael Yon didn’t target a niche and set out to exploit/serve it. He was already part of that community.

    So can essentially amorphous media organizations serve niche audiences? Probably not as well as those niche audiences can serve themselves.

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