Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Wednesday, March 03, 2004  

"I've passed being depressed about that."
--Jim Murphy, CBS Television Executive Producer

The folks at Pew Research recently found that a fifth of 18-29 year olds get their news from Jon Stewart. Just two percent more get their news from Tom, Peter, or Dan. Hence Murphy's depression. Indeed, it is surely that the younger generations can't be trusted to know the difference between comedy and news. The sky is falling. We're doomed. Soon these jokers will be running the country!

Murphy's assumption, and one I've seen a voiced often since Pew released that finding, is that the kids are catastrophically stupid and don't know better. How about this one: it's Murphy and the networks who are stupid.

The broadcast news model hasn't changed in 50 years. For 22 minutes a day (all right, that has changed--it used to be a little longer), the anchors offer reports on national and international news, business, health, culture, and entertainment. With variations in each network's special reports (call it four minutes), all three generally run identical stories. Fifty years ago, when this was the only avenue through which Americans saw images from around the world, when the nightly news had the glamor of "immediacy" (beating the papers by 12 hours), it was a dynamite format. But now we have ready access to hundreds of stations from dozens of countries (not to mention the internet). So you tell me--who's being stupid in defending the 50-year-old formula?

Here's what people younger than 30 think: the filter of "news" offered by Dan Rather is about as objective as an internet chat room. Where the networks mistakenly regard their broadcasts as definitive, the far more media-savvy young people see them as sales pitches. They've been weened since Sesame Street on sales pitches, so they know one when they see one. The product here is a mental environment conducive to sell Cialis and SUVs.

Jon Stewart is therefore reliable because, like his audience, he knows he's selling, and he knows what he's selling (topical humor). He's forthright about his bias and his show self-consciously does not offer "objective news." These editorial admissions, however, make his shows more transparent. The Daily Show is trying to kid you, but it's not kidding itself.

Unlike the saddened dinosaurs of the network news, who are blind to how compromised their "news" has become.

posted by Jeff | 11:26 AM |
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