Really? That is what you are covering?

Today established another low point in the long decline of the American news media (television primarily). With all the events in the world to cover, a small sampling of which includes Egypt, new Israeli settlements, criminal investigations into Wall Street, Republicans threatening to derail the economy over healthcare and new NASA data that shows the US running out of water, what do they spend precious resources and time reporting? I’ll let CNN provide the headline:

‘Bachelor’ contestant Gia Allemand dies after apparent suicide attempt

I feel bad for this woman’s family, however her death in no way merits the attention it is getting. In this reality television obsessed culture, the media just couldn’t keep its pants on.

Meanwhile television news isn’t spending every waking moment on this story, as explained by Salon yesterday:

A newly unsealed lawsuit, which banks settled in 2012 for $95 million, actually offers a different reason, providing a key answer to one of the persistent riddles of the financial crisis and its aftermath. The lawsuit states that banks resorted to fake documents because they could not legally establish true ownership of the loans when trying to foreclose.



Being outside the bubble makes the world a better place

I don’t think I can accurately convey the immense difference in mind set from working inside the political bubble to now functioning, for the most part, outside of it. The only remaining bond is the fact that I live in DC.

The recent “scandals” are a prime example.

While the economy continues to sputter, Wall Street criminals continue to feed off taxpayers and homeowners, and children struggle to get a meal and get an education, Congress and the media are obsessed with the IRS doing its job, trumped up hearings on a terrorist attack in Libya, and the government investigating the leak of “classified” information to the Associated Press.

Each of these stories has a touch of importance, but you wouldn’t be able to figure that out from the coverage or the political yappers on TV. Each story deserves its own post and a careful examination of the facts.

As for my experience, thank god I’m no longer working on the hill getting caught up in this. It reminds of the experience my sister had while at home with her oldest child. She watched a great deal of TV, it was a companion.  Suddenly the world was a very dangerous and dark place. The news kept telling her about all the murders, kidnappings, and crime in the world. She didn’t want Emily to leave the house, let alone play with her friends outside. Then, as her other children were born and got older, and TV time diminished, the world grew brighter. Instead of listening to the observations of others, and away from the stories told to garner ratings, she was actually living in the world again. And guess what, that world was much safer than what the screen inside was trying to sell her.

Leaving politics is very much the same. All of the arguments now make no sense to me. All the time and energy spent creating fake outrage is that more regrettable. There are still big issues at play, still important differences to discuss and debate. But trust me, almost none of that is taking place. Just ginned up anger to fuel donations and media coverage.

It makes you wonder how much we could be accomplishing instead.

Gohmert Strikes Again. Is he pulling an Andy Kaufman?

My favorite crazy member of Congress is at it again, positing the notion on CSPAN that radical islamic terrorists have set up camps in Mexico, working with drug cartels, and have been trained to act “hispanic” and cross the border into the United States. The video and a transcript were posted by the Huffington Post:

“We know Al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border,” he said Wednesday on C-Span. “We know that people that are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic [sic] when they are radical Islamists. We know these things are happening. It is just insane not to protect ourselves, to make sure that people come in as most people do … They want the freedoms we have.”

Sometimes I think Congressman Louie Gohmert’s comments and claims are so ridiculous that he can’t possibly believe them. I’ve recently come to the conclusion he is simply pulling off a political Andy Kaufman.

For those of you who don’t know, Andy Kaufman was a comedian and actor who specialized in performance art as comedic entertainment. He is famous for wrestling women and getting into a fight with professional wrestler Jerry “The King” Lawler on the David Letterman Show. It was performance art at its finest.

I hope to learn one day that Gohmert was pulling our leg all along.

Terror in the new media age. Is all the coverage good for us?

I have and will continue to refrain from discussing the details of yesterday’s despicable bombing attack in Boston. We don’t know who did it or why, and media coverage is doing little except stoking fear and misinformation.

What I’m pondering, as an observer and participant in media, is the intersection of media and terrorism in our age of instant news and social networks. Watching the news, reading Facebook, and following Twitter the last 36 hours, I’m left to ponder a difficult question: Must terrorist acts inflict large numbers of casualties to be effective?

There is little chance that an act of death and destruction perpetrated by foreign or domestic terrorists could bring our country to its knees. However, how we react to such an event could. Yesterday it was reported the United States has indeed tortured people after 9/11. According to Reuters, the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment investigation found:

“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture,” the 11-member task force, assembled by the nonpartisan Constitution Project think tank, said in their 577-page report.

The scathing critique of methods used under the Republican administration of former President George W. Bush also sharpened the focus on the plight of inmates at Guantanamo, which Bush opened and his Democratic successor has failed to close.

Obama banned abusive interrogation techniques such as waterboarding when he took office in early 2009, but the widely condemned military prison at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba has remained an object of condemnation by human rights advocates.

Following the media coverage the last 24 hours closely, one can see how the fear behind these actions becomes possible. We are bombarded with graphic and disturbing images while talking heads describe how dangerous the world is, how people should avoid crowds, and how any event could become a target.

The media seems completely oblivious to the impact they are having in the populace, at the same time amplifying the message of terror these attacks are designed to convey. To me this prompts a thought experiment; what if no one covered these events? If the media reported it, then moved on, would terror attacks be as effective?

And as I talked about here, our society doesn’t do well evaluating real versus perceived threats. Ross Pomeroy puts it this way:

In the last decade, you’d be hard-pressed to go one day without hearing about it. However, as Reason‘s Ronald Bailey wrote in 2011, an American’s chances of being killed by a terrorist are approximately one in 20 million. Heck, even if all of the thwarted terrorist attacks over the last 10 years were carried out, that still would translate to a risk of one in 1.7 million. Compare that to an infinitely more dangerous activity you may undertake every morning: climbing into a car. The annual risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash is one in 19,000.

I can’t say enough about the people at the race, the staff, the emergency personal, police, fire fighters, doctors, and nurses who showed all the good humanity is capable of.  Terrorist attacks, or the subsequent media coverage, should not cause us to live in fear. We are too good for that.

Welcome to the new era of commercials and where we go from here

I’m fascinated by the changes in advertising over the last 10-15 years.

People say all the time they hate commercials, but man they’re getting good. VCR‘s made it easier to skip them, but the machines were cumbersome and inaccurate. Then along came DVR‘s and no one was watching ads anymore. Advertisers quickly realized their captive audience was gone and to reel the audience back in, ads had to be as entertaining as the programing (think Superbowl ads). Then along comes the internet explosion and marketers realized that if done right, their ads could become viral.

This is all a lead up to this amazing ad that is making the rounds right now from K-Mart:

This new paradigm also means that advertisers have been able to break out of 30-60 second framework, as was the case in this moving Expedia ad:

At first blush, many ads don’t seem to have much in common with their product, as is the case with this Evian spot (Live young, really?):

Finally, this isn’t an ad, but I think it gives you a good idea where the ad artform is going. Grab people’s attention, entertain them, and get them to share it. This video has been viewed over 11 million times despite running over 4 minutes. It is inventive, got a decent jam, and is damn fun to watch (Warning: at points it is graphic and violent):

Could this pay model work for bloggers?

My effort to start this blog has been greatly impacted by Andrew Sullivan. His groundbreaking Daily Dish blog has been terrific reading for years and I was happy to pony up $20 for a subscription in January.

Business Insider has published its intriguing interview with Andrew which covers taking his blog independent and the pay meter model he has implemented. One particular answer caught my eye because it relates to my earlier post on the future of newspapers:

BI: How do you wrap your head around the meter concept?

AS: Back in the day I would go to Harvard Square bookstore. When I was there in 1984, having left England, there was no way for me to know what was going on back home except in the British papers. I would go there and flip through the newspapers. At some point the dude had every right to say “Either buy the magazine or put it down.” That’s basically what the meter is. At some point, the owner store says to you “Thanks for coming in, but either buy something, or leave.”

Another answer grabbed me because as I begin to blog more often I’m experiencing the same thing:

BI: And how do you go about figuring out how to do that – creating an experience worth paying for and worth renewing?

AS: What happens in this process, since the first post I put up, this medium kind of tells you where to go. You just need to listen to it. Stats help, so do reader letters…. You try things, if they work great, if not, you let it go.

Three years ago, when it wasn’t in our interest, we installed the “Read On” button and our pageviews were halved. We made a decision that the reader experience was more important than the monetization. That wasn’t such good news for Barry Diller [laughs]. But it was a wise decision to treat those people right and give them what they want.

The surprise is being there first and establishing that consistency and building that audience that’s sticky, it works online. The thing is you have to deliver every day. If you do not give them their drugs, they’re going to fucking kill you. It’s addictive.

The horrible thing is – it’s as addictive for me to produce as it is for them to consume…  My social life has collapsed. It’s my blog, my husband, and Breaking Bad at this point. And that’s not good for me.