My Media Wish List for Santa
It may be a little early to start tugging on Santa’s coattails, but given the deteriorating state of most mainstream media outlets these days, I couldn’t wait to offer my 2008 Media Wish List for Christmas. And if St. Nick sees fit to put any of these presents beneath my conceptual tree on Dec. 25, I promise to be a good little critic in 2009 –- I might even ease up on Grey's Anatomy and Heroes.
Wish No. 1: A new economic model for traditional media –- Too many newspapers and TV companies are making headlines in their own outlets for the faltering state of their finances, from Tribune Co. filing bankruptcy and halting payments for laid-off workers to Gannett Corp. pink-slipping 2,000 people.
It's like a bad disaster movie: big media companies go into debt to get biggest just before the biggest credit crunch and economic slowdown in recent memory dismantles their ability to pay. In newspapers, the rapid decline of the classified advertisement is reducing a major source of revenue, while all outlets are struggling with a recession that has hurt their major advertisers.
Toss in the spread of digital technology –- which has moved readers and viewers to the Internet, where revenue from advertisers is much less –- and you have a perfect storm of bad news. We need a new way to finance the newsrooms full of reporters who develop the news stories echoed on a thousand blogs and Web sites -- before the nation’s news diet is reduced to reworked press releases and dispatches from the latest movie premiere’s red carpet.
Wish No. 2: Network TV suits develop better scripted series with less episodes and shorter runs -– This one sounds esoteric, I know. But there are two reasons NBC turned over its 10 p.m. weeknight timeslots to Jay Leno next season (and thus keeping him at NBC): Scripted dramas, which normally air at 10 p.m., cost a lot and haven’t been successful with viewers outside old-school CBS.
So let's copycat British TV (why not? Half their acting population already plays Americans on U.S. series, anyway). In England, TV series run in much shorter bursts –- say, six to 10 episodes in a season, with the most popular series lasting three or four cycles. The best cable TV series in America come close, offering 13 episodes in a season.
TV executives would argue the Brits leave money on the table, constantly halting series at the height of their popularity. But such a system makes the shows stronger, because writers can focus on the best material -– any fan knows that even 13-episode series tend to sag in the middle -– and viewers would appreciate TV more because more of it would be better.
Of course, that would require long-term thinking in Hollywood, wouldn’t it?
Wish No. 3: Journalism and anger management courses for CNN’s Lou Dobbs, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews –- These guys top my least-wanted list as opinionators who cloak their various agendas in the mantle of journalism. But every one of them shrugs off journalism values of accuracy and fairness whenever it suits them –- from Matthews telling viewers it may be his job to help Barack Obama succeed, to Dobbs refusing to correct data in one of his reports on leprosy figures in the United States when challenged by 60 Minutes.
Time to pull the plug on a dance that, in Jon Stewart’s estimable words, is “hurting America.”