The Ministry of Truth


“and that’s the way it is…”

Yesterday and today we have been teaching a VJ course at CUNY’s new Graduate School of Journalism.

On Wednesday last week, I gave a lecture at the journalism school at the State University of NY at Stony Brook.

In both cases, of course, we talked about “the Revolution” in technology, the web and the ability of anyone to ‘be a journalist’.

This caused deep distress among the journalism students. Maybe because the craft they are paying to learn is now no longer so ‘special’?

Many of them, schooled to a large degree in the ‘conventional’ view of Journalism (despite both Judy Watson and Barbara Selvin opening the door to us), expressed deep angst over the idea of ‘anyone’ being able to get a camera and make ‘anything’!

“Where is the control?” they asked, aghast!

They all wanted to know where the ‘editorial’ controls are.

“Who will guarantee that this is true?”

(I read something similar to this on Safran’s Lostremote yesterday).

This anxiety is funny, coming from an institution that prides itself (at least says so), in a “free press”.

Well, guess what? We have not had a ‘free press’ until now.

CBS v. ABC; Matt Lauer v. Dianne Sawyer is NOT a free press.

Up until now, we have had a very Soviet Press. It was controlled. Not by the state, but rather by a handful of paternalistic media corporations who we ‘trusted’ to make sure everything was ‘OK’.

Well, of course, for more than 40 years, it has very much not been OK.

The disaster in Iraq, (which I lay to a great extent at the feet of a passive media), is the result.

The very idea of turning the most powerful informational medium in the world over to Katie Couric, Brian Williams and a handful of network execs’ to entrust to them the content of our information and public discourse on a regular basis carries the seeds of cultural suicide.

Now, for the first time, we are at the precipice of a real Free Press.

And you know what? Free presses are messy.

They are supposed to be.

We’re going to have a thousand voices saying a thousand different things.


Bring on the storm.

We need it.

We have lived in the Soviet News World for far too long.

And like the former residents of the Soviet Bloc, we have gotten used to being spoon fed. We cannot imagine a world without ‘controls’.

That 22 year old students feel this way is all the more tragic.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, economic advisers such as Jeffrey Sachs suggested a ‘cold turkey’ approach to building a Capitalist economy.

The former Soviet citizens were aghast (much as the students at CUNY and SUNY): “I don’t understand”, they say. “Without People’s Collective Farm Number 87, where will the food come from?”

Without Katie, how will we know what is true.

We will know.

Trust me.


13 responses to “The Ministry of Truth

  1. I think you do the coming revolution a disservice by merely saying “we will know, trust me.”

    The response ought to be “how do we know what is true today?”

    The response to that (either “we don’t” or “we put our faith in an editorial process”) leads to the answer of how we’ll know what’s true tomorrow.

    When the number of cameras on the street goes from being limited to being unlimited, it doesn’t decrease the need for editorial process — it increases it! The difference is that the process no longer has to be in the hands of a select few producers and anchors. Everyone becomes part of the editorial process.

    As the process becomes transparent, the level of trust can only increase; given the poor perception of journalists among most people today, that’s a very good thing.

  2. Michael, maybe one day you’ll come to the realization that what you do and what you’ve been preaching, although you like to impress people with all your collection of euphemisms, is not journalism. By definition journalism is to investigate and report. Video, photography, writing are merely tools to report the findings. The quality of the imaging, being video or photography, is there to better describe and give impact to the story, and so is the quality of the writing. And what you do it’s definitely not news either, news is considered events that will impact the community, so how those VJs and their methods are going to change the news is a mystery, perhaps you would care to explain, considering that none of the VJ clips that you have ever shown have nothing to do with news either.

    What you have been doing and what VJs have been doing is merely mini documentaries, perhaps you should re-label them Video Documentarians (VD????). Every examples of VJ work are nothing more than mini features, poor examples of those too. Forget about the poor photography, every one of those pieces are incomplete, one sided story without offering different points of view, different or diversified experts on the subjects. Even on features or documentaries a lot of planning and research is necessary in order to deliver that type of work that could benefit the viewers. Just take a close look at those videos done for Verizon, they are totally useless to any viewer. They are cheap time filler with no public informational values whatsoever, and if you can not see or understand that then you are not belonged in this business.

    Your VJs are not only video blind but also video deaf. The problem is your cheap method of production, shoot everything that you see and after the job find out what you got on tape. No planning, no investigation, no research, but most of all no intelligence. Again, just look at any of those videos and look at the B footage. The VJs are so busy running the camera that they are neither hearing nor understanding what’s being said and the result is that none of the footage matches the dialog. Footage is just thrown in there with the sole purpose to fill five minutes worth of video.

    Those students at CUNY are correct, what you do is not news and is not journalism. Go ahead and call it freedom of expression or freedom of speech if you want it, but that’s far from offering information that will impact or benefit the public.

  3. Dear Nino
    Having taught at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University for 8 years, and then having taught at New York University’s School of Journalism for another 8 years, I feel fairly qualified to tell you that you don’t have the vaguest idea of what ‘journalism’ is. And I certainly don’t have the space here, nor the time, to educate you.

    You like to boast about how many years of formal training you had as you studied lighting. My guess is that you have had no formal training in ‘journalism’ at all, and your complete lack of understanding of what it is, or how it works is evident in sentences like ‘by definition, journalism is to investigate and to report’. I am not sure where you got that one from, but if one of my students in one of my freshman classes wrote that I would give them the F you so clearly deserve.

    For a guy who makes his living today doing mostly corporate videos, I don’t see that you are in much of a position to criticize anyone else’s work on the grounds that they are ‘cheap time fillers with no public informational value’.

    There is a reason they are ‘students’ at CUNY. They are there to learn. You have much to learn as well, believe me.

  4. It is an interesting time. No doubt things are changing.

    If I were to walk down the street this afternoon, and randomly talk to 25 people, I might get completely different topics, angles, ideas, perspectives, and information from each.

    The internet allows me to walk down the high speed hiway….and get the same. Different ideas, perspectives, topics, visuals, videos, programs, etc…

    Does simply talking to someone on the street constitute journalism? Does simply reading someone’s blog constitute journalism? Does simply making or watching a video about anything constitute journalism? Michael didn’t want to delve into the depths of what journalism means, so I won’t.

    However, I can’t seem to get the analogy out of my head. What is the difference between talking to somebody about something, and watching a video or reading a blog? Ideas are exchanged. Video shows content. But if I were in a football stadium with 70,000 people, and they all had a story to tell…. how would I know whose story is worth listening to? Would I take the time to listen to each?

    The internet can provide “most popular” videos. But that usually is something wacky. Not important.

    The internet is great for rebuttal… disproving unfactual information.

    I think overall, the networks, in general, have been able to disseminate the facts to society. They have been able to sift through information, investigate, and tell relevent important stories for Americans. As for Iraq, the press not critique information strongly enough. They could have and should have demanded more clear evidence. Our leaders on all sides of the isle could and should have done the same. There were failures on a number of levels, not only the press. There were a number of intellegence agencies, here and abroad whose intellegence – normally trustworthy – was not.

    It is hard to say how this same type of situation would be better or worse – if it happened today. Hindsight is 20/20. This is a hypothetical as well.

    I think journalism is information that benefits society. Whether it is investigative information about our elected leaders; emergency information that affects our lives; entertainment and sports; etc…

    Journalism is a social service.

    Fairness, accuracy, intellegence, ethics, laws, all need to be understood and practiced.

    I am afraid that “anyone with a camera” will not be fair. Or accurate. Or intellengent. Or ethical. Or law abiding. Their work will not benefit society. Their work might harm.

    Like a doctor, the professional journalist’s code of ethics teaches them to serve the public’s best interests. Some might do this, on their own. But far more, I think, may not.

    I think trustworthy news outlets will have a place. They will hire experienced, ethical journalists to communicate fair reports. Perhaps that will not be the case in 50 years.

    Then again, chaos might replace order. Would you prefer that?

    Just because the internet allows for more voices to be heard…. Imagine yourself in stadium while everyone is talking.

  5. One more comment
    “And that’s the way it is”, the catchphrase of Walter Cronkite – Mr. Cronkite helped make network news anchors the celebrities they are, but the network execs missed the point about why.

    He was popular because people felt he was supplying accurate reporting to them (whether he was or not doesn’t really matter in this discussion) and that they could rely on that. That reliability was backed by a fairly good news organization and corporate expenditure on news as well.

    Then the network execs started making it a popularity contest between anchors, and it all slid downhill from there. Instead of spending on news organizations and new gathering, they’re now spending it on news presentation .

  6. I hope that they declared your conflict of interest Michael and told the students that as a salesman for the VJ product anything you tell them will be slanted toward selling your product.

    In next weeks course we will hear from Slippery Sam of El Cheapo Cars on “Why buying a new car will help you be a better journalist”

  7. The problem with the big news shops starts with a massive failure of imagination. The bottle neck is at the top of the organization. The mission is, too often, to carry forward past practices while devoting a small percentage of resources in new initiatives. VJ represents a radical departure from the “way we’ve always done things” and therefore is not embraced.

  8. Or the it could be the VJ model is flawed and failed everywhere its been tried so it isn’t embraced?

  9. Its funny Stephen that it has this reputation of ‘failed everywhere its been tried’. This is just spin. In point of fact, this is not true. I was with an exec from KRON last week and it seems that the VJ system there is quite successful. (as it is in many other places). So successful, that I can pretty much guarantee you are going to see it emerge at, oh, say 9 or 10 other stations in the US in the next year.

  10. Michael I know it might depend on weather you are in the car our under it as to what the truth is but wasn’t it you yourself that was one of the first to say it had failed? From memory… I really don’t want to go trawling back through posts… you had a whole bunch of reasons for the “non success” of your VJ model but in the end it failed.

  11. Stephen,
    There is no question that I found the initial response in the US very frustrating. I thought it would go much faster and be much easier. Resistance here is far in excess of anything I had experienced in Europe. However, in making an assessment now of what we might call the first phase, I have to give a great deal of credit to the folks at KRON (Mark Antonitis in particular), Sechrist for as long as he was at KRN and Gary Brown the ND at KGTV. They all kept at it, and they also began to tailor the transformation to what we might call a more “American” approach. I was always an advocate of burning the whole thing to the ground, but they are incrementalists, particularly Derek Dalton, GM in San Diego. This approach worked very very well. Many station groups in the US, as you can imagine, took a ‘wait and see’ attitude, (which was also pretty frustrating), but now that wait and see era is coming to an end and for the most part, they like what they see and I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that we will soon be looking at a Phase 2, which will incorporate all the lessons learned in phase 1. Certainly there were mistakes, I made mistakes, I underestimated the American market in many ways, but I also learned and matured. So, no, overall I don’t think failure is the right end analysis. Learned experience, regroup and reapply might be better.

  12. All progress is based upon failure and learning. In my experience, the key to succeeding sooner is understanding how to fail faster.

  13. Pingback: Internetski « Rosenblumtv

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s