The Gasbags on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show were at it again this week as they discussed President Obama’s prime-time press conference Tuesday. There was Rehm sniffing that the major networks provided “no analysis, no nothing” and a guest explaining ”they had to go right to entertainment programming and make their money.” Earlier a guest said of Americans, somewhat self-importantly: “most people do not absorb all the media that we in this room or your listeners absorb”.
The guest, of course, is wrong. Americans “absorb” more media than ever in history, just not the kind of media the gasbags think is “important” and “serious” enough for Americans’ own good.
Meanwhile establishment media got stiffed by the President recently, when Obama blew off their annual Gridiron Dinner and roast in Washington for a quiet night at Camp David doing – nothing. Talk about telegraphing to the self-appointed gatekeepers of information are they not nearly as important as they view themselves.
I point all this out, as we in traditional local TV newsrooms grapple with dramatic change. Many of us now being converted to “Digital Correspondents” wonder bitterly how its possible for the Internet to save us? How can buzz-marketing through Twitter and social networking – or blogging – possibly lure enough eyeballs to to pay the bills at a local affiliate TV station. Why are our owners slashing investment in the flagship TV product by turning us into “One Man Bands” and chasing the Internet with no proven model to monetize the product?
For the big picture on some of this, I look to no other than the President of the United States.
People today consume news as bits of information from mainstream and niche sources and from one another, driving a White House intent on shaping the news to an innovative communication strategy. Blogs, on-line news sites and ethnic media have grown dramatically in size and influence, even as newspapers disappear.
In recent days the president has bypassed traditional media by appearing on The Tonight Show and a Latin music awards show. He conducted an on-line “town hall” where more than three million votes were cast American Idol-style for the top questions to be asked. Via the Democratic National Committee, he e-mails millions directly. And yes, The President is on Twitter.
This is all in addition to the president’s traditional media appearances on 60-Minutes and his prime-time press conference (where, by design, he used up the entire allotted hour to prevent gasbag analysis by the networks).
Obama’s people are working all the angles. And that, it seems, is what I’m doing in my small media world too. Whether all the Twittering, live-streaming chats, blogging I’m doing as a “One Man Band” Digital Correspondent in an “Information Center” (formerly a TV newsroom) will amount to the eyeballs my employer needs remains to be seen. Recent data reported in Broadcasting and Cable raises new questions about blind faith in new media.
Indeed, there are a lot of days when I’m skeptical. Obviously, Obama is not. The question is, can we in the media business adapt as quickly and effectively as the President has without throwing the baby out with the bathwater?