My last year end list: The five turning points for media in 2012, from Newtown to the 47 percent
From the killing of an unarmed, African-American teen in a Sanford, Fla. subdivision to the results of an election that confounded major segments of the nation’s conservative media structure, the biggest turning points for media in 2012 turned out to be the biggest turning points for all of us.
We here in Florida learned that firsthand -- again! -- when George Zimmerman’s Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin became an international story debated in newspapers from Great Britain to South Africa, fueled by a petition drive and social media campaign which reached sympathetic ears across the globe.
Besides speeding up the news cycle to ridiculous proportions, our new media ecology has made us more distracted and distractable than ever, with tablet computers and smartphones propped on our laps even as we’re supposedly relaxing while watching television. (Forget about savoring that dramatic moment on Mad Men or Walking Dead; gotta post a quip about the scene on Twitter before anyone else does!)
The result: a pace of media so frantic most every major detail originally reported about the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. by major news outlets was wrong or misleading.
Clearly, we have a lot left to learn about our new media lives.
Here’s a step in the right direction: My list of The Five Biggest Turning Points for Media in 2012.
5) Media Gets Too Much Wrong in Newtown. Bad enough that CNN and Fox News initially mis-reported the Supreme Court ruling upholding much of President Obama’s health care law. On Dec. 14, when a gunman killed 28 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., much of what was reported for hours during the emergency was completely wrong.
The shooter wasn’t 24-year-old Ryan Lanza, but his 20-year-old brother Adam. The killer’s father wasn’t shot in New Jersey, but his mother Nancy Lanza was killed in Connecticut. Nancy Lanza didn’t teach at Sandy Hook Elementary and Adam Lanza didn’t target one of her classes there. All of this information was initially reported by respected news organizations such as CNN, NPR, the Associated Press, the New York Times and ABC News, citing unnamed law enforcement sources.
Some experts have suggested this is price for a social media-drenched journalism process, with tremendous pressure to get and keep audiences by offering the latest developments. But it has always been easier to galvanize audiences by disregarding journalism rules; we learned long ago such moves sacrifice long term credibility for a quick audience that mostly gets a front row seat to our mistakes.
4) Fox News Election Night Meltdown. Watching conservative political mastermind Karl Rove forced to concede an Obama win in Ohio by the vote-crunching election desk at conservative cable newschannel Fox News, you had the sense of a corner turned.
For months, an array of conservative media outlets, pundits and news sources had been assuring their audiences of Republican victories Nov. 6. When that didn't happen, media figures and the GOP itself were forced to consider that their ideology had become so impervious to outside facts, it was trapped in its own bubble of unreality.
3) Newspapers and Magazines Retrench, Curbing the Era of Free News. The decision by New Orleans' Times-Picayune newspaper to cut staff, focus on its online platforms and restrict its print run to three days in most weeks was one of the most-visible examples of an unwelcome trend. Newsweek also announced plans to end print publication this year, while Mashable notes the number of newspapers with paywalls limiting their free content online doubled in the past year.
The result: fewer journalists in print and less free news on the Internet.
2)Trayvon Martin Case Bursts Open Racial Divides in Media. By the end of March, the Feb. 26 shooting death of Martin, an unarmed black teen, had become the year's second most-covered news story, seriously dividing media.
Anchors on left-leaning MSNBC wore hoodies on air as PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton also served as spokesman for Martin's family in its quest to see shooter George Zimmerman prosecuted. And online outlets such as the Daily Caller and Business Insider published photos and tweets taken from the dead teen's social media accounts that made him look thuggish. Here's a look at some of my comments on the coverage.
1) Mitt Romney's 47 Percent Video. More than anything in media, this video, secretly recorded at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, may have crippled GOP candidate Mitt Romney's presidential effort. Posted by liberal newsmagazine Mother Jones in September, it revealed the multimillionaire telling a roomful of wealthy patrons that 47 percent of the country would vote for Obama because they felt "entitled" to things like health care, food and housing.
As proof fate isn't without irony, consider the final figures on Romney's percentage of the popular vote: