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June 2009

Yes, Partly, but…

One take on why the mainstream media completely fell down for most of the weekend on Iran…

The Missing Iran Coverage
(Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, 15 Jun 2009)

One of Andrew’s readers asks where the MSM is on Iran. The New York Times and numerous internet sites have wall-to-wall coverage, including Andrew’s sterling work. Other outlets practically ignored the biggest story currently going on in the world over the weekend.

But I think Andrew’s reader’s question is ultimately a business story. Why doesn’t the MSM have more coverage? Because they don’t have the manpower. The cable networks are hamstrung by the fact that they don’t have much footage of what’s going on in Iran.

The print media is hamstrung by the fact that they’ve slashed their foreign bureaus to the bone–and then amputated the bone. There are too few journalists in too few places to cover a big story like this.

Yes, the above is all true. The “assets” needed for reporters “owned” by the main stream media to report directly from the scene just are not there like they might have been decades ago, because both television and print have pulled back massively internationally because over the years the profit model for keeping those resources just didn’t hold up. (Although I will say, CNN *did* have assets on the ground and just was slow to deploy them and give priority to this story.)

HOWEVER…. if anything the events of the weekend have proven that you can get quite a lot of information without having ANY assets on the ground… by doing a good job of aggregating sources that ARE on the ground, and by finding and presenting true experts where they exist, and by acting as an intelligent filter on top of the masses of raw information available. A number of online sources, including Andrew Sullivan who was mentioned above, have been doing an incredible job of that. And this includes plenty of compelling pictures and video that could have been used on TV nicely.

There is a lot that the mainstream media COULD have done… all with no assets directly on the ground, just with a handful of smart people making use of the information that was available and digesting and presenting the best of it to the people watching.

This STARTED to happen by Sunday afternoon, but Saturday this was completely and totally absent. From not just CNN, but from pretty much every “traditional” news source.

It has been obvious for quite some time that such sources were no longer a “good” source of news relative to the newer alternative sources in many many cases. (Although some of the original reporting for print has still remained valuable.)

This weekend though television media in particular proved that it no longer had any value at all in the realm of important live breaking news, the one area where it was still relevant and potentially valuable. They have now ceded even that ground.

Sure, they might not have been able to do it the same way they did Tienanmen Square because of lack of their own resources on the ground. But there would have been ways they could have done it. But they don’t know how. They are done.

Now the only remaining place where the TV news networks are useful is when you need something droning on in the background while you do other things, but want to keep an ear out in case something important happens… and actually, radio (probably via the internet, not the airwaves) is better for that. Oops.

Bold Prediction of the moment: Unless they completely and totally transform into something unrecognizable, in 10 years there will not be any American “24 Hour News Network” any more. Not one. They will all be gone, because they have no remaining value. It will just take awhile for enough people to stop watching for them to actually get the message and go under.

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