The Business of Broadcast & Bodies

Broadcast journalism is incredibly competitive and holds journalists to impossibly high standards–especially where women and appearances are concerned.

In theory, the goal of a news organization is to inform consumers completely and accurately. However, in broadcast, the term consumer is treated a little differently; or rather, the news organization doesn’t just produce news, they try to market a product. The product is entertainment, and the vehicle of providing entertainment is the newscasters.

Broadcast journalists are constantly pressured for perfection–and of course, they constantly fall short. There are endless videos of news “fails” online–from the brad-new intern anchor swearing his first time on air, to that weather woman inadvertently drawing a vaguely phallic shape as she explains the course of a storm, these videos garner hundreds of thousands of views. People love to laugh at others’ mistakes. These mistakes are caught on camera, and will follow the journalists for the rest of their lives–punishing them long after they’ve been dismissed from the newsroom where the folly occurred.

Sometimes it’s not even a journalist’s mistake that gets them in trouble, it’s their face. Or their voice, or their outfit, or their body type. For the most part, women have the most focus placed on their appearance. One heavy-set local anchor was harassed via email for being a “bad role model” and not being “a suitable example for… young people”–as though it is her job to be a shining example of perfection for an entire community. [source] Let’s ignore the fact that the angry viewer has no right to judge anyone’s health by merely looking at them, and turn to the more relevant point: where is the equitable email for any of her male colleagues at her local station? Where is the equitable situation for any male journalist in the country, in the history of television?

Women journalists are under constant scrutiny–viewers love pregnant newscasters, but they better lose the baby weight fast. Producers love the young vibrant energy female anchors give off, but at the first sign of a wrinkle, you’ll be replaced. The broadcast world is long overdue for an aesthetic overhaul. Viewers want a good role model? Let’s give them realistic ones, who don’t have plastic Barbie faces with a grandmother’s voice (cough cough–The View). Or, we can start pushing male journalists out when they get crows’ feet, too.

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Choose: Free Information or Free Speech

The “Free Flow of Information Act” has had many forms over the years, each as dangerous to reporters as the last.

The only legally sustainable reasons for censorship are for obscene content and a threat to national security. It’s very rare that the court sides with censorship–but journalists are able to restrain themselves from publishing questionable content (photographs that may be too graphic are often placed online, or in a separate link from the news article; the readership is taken into account). But the newest edition of the FFIA will only serve to make journalists even more cautious in what they post–they may further restrain themselves, sacrificing the quality of their news.

Of course, that may depend on your definition of “journalist”.

The Act claims it will protect journalists from phone record searches and the like by the government, to help keep anonymous sources secret. This only applies, however, if you are a paid employee or free-lancer of a news organization. Wait, what about bloggers then? People who tweet? What if you retweet? Are all of those multitudes protected from the government?

And what qualifies as “news” is also debatable–one could be a journalist, get paid for your work, and your work still isn’t “news” under the “protection” of this document. It explicitly states that raw information isn’t covered, meaning documents and raw footage. Both the journalist posting the information and anyone who helped them obtain it will be at risk of surveillance and investigation.

Further, the government would even have the right to restrict a journalist’s writing until investigations were completed and a court decision was reached.

No good will come of this. It does little to protect the few journalists it covers in its limited definition, and will only discourage people from sharing information and exposing happenings that may really need to be exposed. Honestly, if Watergate were to happen in this day and age, someone might still have the guts to report it–but they could be shut down easier than ever if this law passes.

Podcast for Your Life

Podcasts seem almost too simple to be considered a modern marvel–but the technology of the future relies on simplicity to thrive.

While shiny chrome futures with cars whizzing through the air and robots that do all of the housework and pocket knives that are can-openers but also personal assistants are fun to imagine, the fact is we are already living in the future–and it’s much simpler to comprehend than The Jetsons lets on. Aesthetically, however, the Jetsons had a lot right: the cartoon was heavily influenced by the ’60s modernistic style, with clean lines and minimalistic shapes, to better showcase the wondrous accomplishments of their gadgets. We see the same aesthetic in modern devices like the iPhone: a single button to turn the device on/off, two more for volume control, and only one for navigating the software. This is the culmination of years of decadence and excess being thrown out the window. Our modern cellphones are throwbacks to previous decades.

Podcasts, too, harken back to the before-times, specifically radio. Podcasts can be accompanied by video (a video podcast, obviously enough) or be audio-only–why is this old-school form of communication so popular? Perhaps because of its simplicity: A podcast knows what it wants to do, and it only has to make its viewers listen. This is far more appealing than turning on the television and being assaulted by advertisements for entertainment, for news, for products, not to mention finally finding whatever you wanted to watch in the first place–generally, television is inconvenient because it spends so much time interrupting itself. Podcasts are there whenever someone bothers to look for them. This is why consumers of all kinds of media turn to the internet.

This gives the podcast an advantage over traditional radio as well–it is more convenient. AM/FM radio accounted for 85% of total radio reaching consumers in 2012, whereas online streams only reached 15% [source]–but podcasts and streams are still growing. In 2006 only 22% of the American population reported knowing of podcasts, with only 11% tuning in; by 2012 45% of Americans knew what a podcast is and 29% were listening [source]. Currently 45% of Americans (ages 12+) have ever listened to a podcast. What’s more is that 67% of podcast listeners don’t mind advertisements in their content, compared to a paltry 6% who tolerate television and radio consumers combined. [source] Podcasts are going to be a great opportunity for advertisers in the future. Radio shows are already releasing podcast versions of their segments for downloads–the media is being a little slow on the uptake, but it would be extremely advantageous for news organizations to hop on this boat too.

There’s no stopping podcasts from being the next big source of entertainment, news, and socialization.

About That Book

I think I should finally discuss my class’s textbook: The News About the News: American Journalism in Peril. Keeping with my recent cheery mood, and suitable for the nice-enough-for-March weather, I’ll say what I like for now. Chapter Three has definitely been one of my favorites (probably my absolute favorite–but I’ve yet to finish the whole thing, so I’ll try to keep hope). It’s titled “News That Makes a Difference”.

When I decided to major in journalism, I told myself I’ll write anything for anyone whenever I can–but I will never write for a tabloid. Most written material matters in some way, big or small, for entertainment or exposure and everything in between; but tabloids are distinctly worthless. I don’t care who’s pregnant or gaining weight or losing weight or getting married or getting divorced or suing the paparazzi–things like that happen to normal people every day (except that last item). Celebrities frequently aren’t worthy news subjects; when they are in the news they should be doing something so exceptional a normal person would be equally exalted or abhorred for doing the same.

As the chapter explains, not every big story is Watergate-level scandal–sometimes it’s something interesting (and a bit suspicious), like Scientology becoming tax-exempt. Journalism can dig deeper into subjects normal people don’t get to experience on a daily basis–or maybe it’s something we all experience on a daily basis, but never think about until it’s shown in a different light–exemplified in the well-known article on ketchup (main point being: there’s a hundred different flavors of mustard, but only one ketchup–excluding the mistaken foray into green & purple varieties in the ’90s, but let’s pretend that didn’t happen).

I want what I write to matter. Somehow. To anyone, even one person, a little bit. And the first person my writing should matter to is me. Because if I don’t care, I can’t make anyone else care. So here it is, in writing, my promise on making my work matter: I will never write bad tabloid articles. I will write about anything else in the world, because anything else in the world will matter more.

Social Media

We know the problems with social media (my own personal issues, as well as the world’s–privacy, egotism, et cetera). But social media is actually one of the best tools journalists have today.

Facebook is seen as a viable business platform, but it isn’t much use for spreading news quickly and accurately. Facebook will let you share with your friends and promote to your fans, but it’s hard to reach outside of your usual social bubble without significant eddort and promotion.

Twitter and Tumblr have it right in this respect: they allow “followers”–strangers who are interested in what you’re saying have the option to bookmark you and be automatically updated whenever you have a new post. Then they can share it with people who have followed them, who may or may not have similar interests. This means your information is spread faster and more effectively than if you only told your closest friends (as on Facebook, or the ancient platform of MySpace).

In turn, when you have gained a significant following on these even-more-social (relative to Facebook) social media sites you will become more determined to provide better content for your audience. There’s no blogger in existence who hasn’t apologized to their readership at least once for not posting often enough. So you’re more motivated, and at the same time your content will be refining itself–what does your audience want? what are they interested in? what will they come back for, what will they share? The content will (hopefully) increase in quality and be consistent in volume. Twitter, Tumblr and like sites are perfect for finding your online niche. Post what you’re interested in, get feedback, refine, rinse, repeat.

In the end, keep Facebook for personal connections–but make sure to use everything else out there to your advantage.

Radio, Podcasts, Rare Positivity

Bleak as I may tend to paint the future, there is one medium of media I have hope for yet: the radio.

(I know I talk about the future a lot–but hey, it’s new. All shiny-chrome-platinum pills-for-meals Jeston-esque wonder-tastic new.)

Traditional radio is growing in popularity in most developing countries, whether people are listening to music or the news. Russia has experienced a drop in interest in every form of media–except radio; radio’s audience has grown. [link] And in the US and Europe, podcasts are as popular a form of internet entertainment as anything else; perhaps due to the versatility of a podcast, allowing either strictly audio or audio+visual content.

Radios were once the center of every home in America–now it tends to be the television, and it’s shifting quickly to the “family computer” (or personal computers–my cousins each have their own iPhones now, and they’re under the age of thirteen! I expect a laptop will be the next big gift at each of their birthdays). But with the switch from television to computer, podcasts have gained popularity quickly, and it likely won’t plateau any time soon, given the popularity of podcast-only shows like Welcome to Night Vale or Cabin Pressure. Traditional radio shows are even saving their broadcasts in podcast-style recordings, available for download.

Certain YouTube personalities, notably “commercial kings” Rhett & Link, release videos and put extra content in podcasts, able to be viewed for free. This technique allows their posted videos to be concise and funny, but keeps the integrity of their guests by allowing fans to explore further into the show and behind the scenes if they want–this keeps their audience’s attention and keeps them looking for more content, a smart business move and fantastic use of all available technology.

With statistics for radio alone being so spectacular amid the “fall” of papers and magazines, it’s certain the stats with inclusion of podcasts would be even more impressive. Fortunately, radio, with its rich and interesting history, has an equally promising future.

Swears

I wrote previously on the changing of our society to one of Paper Plate Culture. This doesn’t nearly encompass all of the changes we’re going through. To tackle another one: swearing.

Swearing is one of the final taboos in most countries, and it’s on the way out. It’s been on the way out for a long time, really. The infamous “Seven Dirty Words” have been comedy routine inspiration since the 60s; in the early 2000s Dane Cook alone probably broke the swearing record on a daily basis. And let’s not forget the Matrix Reloaded, which brought to viewers’ attention the wonders of French swearing (essentially, say anything profane, connect it to another profane word or phrase with an appropriate article in between, and repeat until you’ve exhausted your repertoire). I do not have a single friend who doesn’t swear occasionally (in fact, most swear profusely and proudly). And you know what they say, if you don’t know who “that friend” is… it’s you.

(Yes, I’m the friend who doesn’t swear, at all, ever. But that’s a post for another day.)

Joining me, on the side of not swearing, is the media. Journalists have historically avoided obscenity—and it makes sense, given that obscenity is one of very few criteria that give reason for prior restraint (that’s censorship or restricted publishing, to any non-journalists). Perhaps in coming years the media will feel less restricted as swearing permeates all of our society, and swearing becomes colloquial and acceptable—even a way to relate better to viewers. I’ll be watching anxiously for the first unscripted, uncensored swear in the news.