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Health care coverage reveals tangled state of media

There may be no better illustration of the tangled mess our news and information media structure has fallen into than the emotional, sometimes misleading debate over health care reform.

That's the notion which struck me last week while listening to a National Public Radio interview with longtime media critic Alex S. Jones, who has written a thought-provoking book about the changing media industry, Losing the News.

Jones laments that the "iron core" of the traditional news media — fact-based reporting and investigation — is disappearing, the victim of shrinking resources, consumer apathy, skittish owners and increasing partisanship. This not only brings less fact-based reporting, but it leads consumers to trust all news outlets less.

But, as Jones rightly notes, the biggest challenge news outlets face isn't just the demise of old school reporting; it's the advent of a new media structure which may be less equipped to deliver actual facts to citizens trying to make important public policy decisions.

Here's my list, inspired by Jones' excellent thinking, on the real, non-economic challenges news outlets face today:

Conflict: As it gets tougher to draw an audience, some news outlets are increasingly addicted to conflict in stories, one of the easiest ways to draw a crowd. In the health care debate, that means focusing on the yahoos screaming at town hall meetings or bringing weapons to public debates, skewing discussion away from the facts at hand to the circus surrounding them.

Pundits in journalists' clothes: Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow and Bill O'Reilly may not have much in common, but one thing they share are shows that often present opinionated takes on the day's news in the same style (and on the same channel) as more traditional reporting. This means they can assume the authority of journalism, but not all of its standards.

The audience's desire: As technology makes it easier for the audience to zero in on what they want when they want it, temptation grows to deliver reports which fit what consumers already believe. It also increases the pressure to oversimplify complex issues and present issues without much nuance.

No wonder Daily Show host Jon Stewart scores so highly in polls about news and information providers; free of the need to provide responses from the targets of his satire, he can deliver the kind of bold critiques more measured reporting has a tough time duplicating. A taste of pop culture savvy and attitude can liven up dry reporting. But when stories about Michelle Obama's shorts get more attention than the reporting on her husband's initiatives, perhaps it's time to consider a change.


Nurse Jackie, season finale, 10:30 p.m. Monday, Showtime: Last chance to catch a new episode from one of this year's best new shows, featuring Edie Falco as a take-no-guff emergency room nurse balancing her lover, a nice guy husband and raging addiction to painkillers. Did I mention it was a dark comedy? The show ends a little oddly — I'm still wondering why a super-competent nurse with a great home life is snorting Percocet in a bathroom. But sparks fly when her lover discovers she is married and a new drug dispensing machine makes stealing her daily fix more difficult.


The Rachel Zoe Project, returns at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Bravo: If you think the furor over Michelle Obama's shorts was massive, check out celebrity-stylist Zoe's hyperventilating over securing dresses for Eva Mendes and Anne Hathaway for the Golden Globes. Highlights include Zoe — who first gained fame as Nicole Ritchie's gal pal and stylist — daring to suggest changes to a Karl Lagerfeld dress and assistants rushing to assure Mendes a spot on her gown can't be seen. Mostly recommended for those who find real issues make their brain hurt.

OH, donny boy, 'tis you who'll dance

Once ABC announced the latest celebrities cutting rugs in its blockbuster Dancing with the Stars competition Monday, fans immediately began the most fun part of the show — guessing who's going to lose.

With more than 255,000 votes logged by midweek, users of the AOL TV Web site pegged celebrity offspring Kelly Osborne as the most likely loser, with just 1 percent of the vote, quickly followed by another celebrity-by-relation, Ashley Hamilton and former Congressman Tom DeLay.

Here's a list of the poll's top contenders for the show's next season, kicking off with a record 16 competitors next month:

Donny Osmond: 30%

Mya: 14%

Natalie Coughlin: 10%

Aaron Carter: 7%

Melissa Joan Hart: 6%

Mark Dacascos: 6%

Kathy Ireland: 5%

Michael Irvin: 5%

Chuck Liddell: 4%

Louie Vito: 3%

Health care coverage reveals tangled state of media 08/24/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 24, 2009 4:41pm]
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