Happy Holidays From Your Media Guy: Two Posts in One
Number 7: the Media Divide Grows
Back when I was a TV critic, I often theorized the day would come when viewers could watch a network TV show whenever they wanted -- and the winner between the cable TV/satellite/internet systems would be won by whomever could deliver that service first and best.
Now we are on the cusp of seeing such service available through a myriad of technologies, from video on demand services to be tested by Comcast Cable to individual episodes of popular ABC and NBC shows available through iTunes for PCs and video ipods.
And while the explosion of technology has this fan excited, there's a dark side to this spread of on demand technology -- it creates a growing media gap between those who can afford high quality media and those who can't.
Once upon a time, we all pretty much watched the same TV, heard the same radio, or read the same newspapers. We were a huge, mass audience united by media and culture, with relatively equal access to the entertainment and informative aspects of the best media.
But that is increasingly no longer true. First, cable TV offered access to 24-hour newschannels and pop culture outlets such as MTV and BET. Then, the explosion of cyberspace presented a world of information to anyone with a home PC and online account. Premium cable services such as HBO and Showtime began to attract some of the edgiest, creative TV comedy and drama series.
Now, Howard Stern is headed to satellite radio and networks are exploring on demand technologies that sidestep local TV stations -- where folks can still see high-quality TV comedy, drama and news shows for free.
In a world where nearly as many people have TVs as indoor plumbing, it is possible the poor will simply find a way to pay for the transition to digital TV and all the other high-cost media sources they desire. But as the quality of media available to each American becomes more dependent on which media sources they can afford, we may see curious repercussions in a media-drenched democracy.
Number 6: Hurricane Porn and Mistaken Reporting from Hurricane Katrina
If this were a sunnier list, I would be noting how coverage of Katrina, the government's awful response and the horrific aftermath seemed to galvanize an electronic media lost in the mind-numbing morass of Natalee Holloway and CIA Leak stories -- returning news coverage to its hard news, incisive roots.
But media never met a positive trend it couldn't obliterate with overuse, and the downside of excellent initial Katrina coverage was an obsessively overeager coverage of subsequent storms -- a.k.a., Hurricane Porn -- and overreporting of lawlessness and chaos in Katrina's aftermath.
As I and many other media critics pointed out, the wildest tales of looting, assaults and rapes in Katrina's aftermath were untrue -- fueled by widespread rumor-mongering, a lack of communication in the affected areas and public officials parroting the worst stories in an attempt to get the world's attention.
And because anchors such as CNN's Anderson Cooper and NBC's Brian Williams made their reputations in Katrina reportage, subsequent storms sparked a frenzy of coverage by over-anxious correspondents seeking their own 15 minutes of fame -- riding the back of a tragedy.
With 2005 a record-breaking year for hurricanes, all news organizations have struggled to keep up with the storms. But hysteria over the chaos in Katrina's aftermath -- and a recognition of how inaccurate media reports fed that reaction -- have outlined the dangers of failing to get the stories of america's natural disasters right.