Scripting News for 1/17/2007

A Blog “Dedicated To Keeping CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 Honest.” 

AHN: “Faculty at SMU in Dallas are protesting the plans to house the George W. Bush Presidential Library.” 

Bush or No Bush? 

I just got off the phone with Sylvia, who passed on a great idea that just might work, to help George Bush leave office early. Here’s how it goes. We all contribute to a fund, that hopefully would contain a lot of money, say $150 million. If Bush resigns on the first day, he gets the whole $150 million. Every day he waits, the fund goes down by 10 percent, so there’s a real incentive for him to act quickly. On Day 2 it’s worth only $135 million. On Day 3, $121.5 million. And so on. It’s kind of a simplified version of Deal or No Deal.

I love the idea! I’d kick in $5K.

Rating news organizations 

Here’s an idea for Jeff Jarvis, who says, with the best intentions, that we need to measure the number of people reading news sources or listening to podcasts so advertisers can know how many people are getting their messages, so they know how much to pay news organizations to carry those messages.

As a “consumer” of news (or user of news, or just citizen) I am interested in knowing which organizations do the best job providing news. The more they focus on news, the higher their score. I think there actually is a way to quantify it in a meaningful way.

Consider: When Anderson Cooper devotes his whole 2-hour show on CNN to the return of two children to their families in Missouri, that would add very little to the score of CNN. On the other hand, the Headline News channel, which repeats the top stories every half-hour, would score relatively high, because of the variety of the stories they carry, and the relevance of those stories.

There is a way to separate the human interest stuff that’s clogging the air waves from hard news. When four climbers are lost on Mount Hood, for example, if we look at it dispassionately, we’d see that the only people who are affected are the climbers (who died) and their families. If you want to stretch it, other people who climb mountains in inclement weather might also have an interest in that information. But the rest of us are only getting an emotional hit from the story. We project ourselves into the situation, and think how horrible it would be to die that way, or to have a family member or friend die that way. It’s not news, it’s not conveying information that affects us, it’s story-telling.

On the other hand, there is information that is news, that affects all of us, that has almost no story-telling to it. When the Fed raises interest rates, there’s no story, but wide impact. The fact that many Americans don’t understand how it impacts them, is perhaps itself a story.

Anyway, my hope is that if the various news sources were rated, they might feel pressure to add more news to their news shows. So someone who tuned into CNN might get 45 minutes of the hostages in St Louis, and 15 minutes on the PBS interview with Bush, or Scooter Libby, or global warming. Or if you like human interest mixed in, how about a story about the Christian Coalition working with Moveon.org. It’s a bit of a tear-jerker for sure, but it’s also news. Or, why not interview some of the families of Iraq casualties? There’s a real emotional rush, for sure, but it’s real. Or if you really want to go for the gusto, show Iraqis as human beings, and help people understand that when an Iraqi dies in violence that we caused (or at our hand) they leave behind people who miss them, who grieve them, just like us.

And how about the “meta” story of why the networks aren’t interviewing the families of Iraq casualties. These stories are about the times we live in. When future generations wonder what we were doing when all this was going on, we’ll have something to tell them. And I can’t help wondering if we aren’t witnessing a successful attempt by the government to control the news we’re getting.

Imagine an airline that, instead of taking you to Chicago, as advertised, gave you burgers and left you right where you were. Sure, the burgers taste better than airline food, but you got on the plane to actually go somewhere!

I’ll write some more about this later.

30 responses to this post.

  1. One thing I’ve thought about hacking together in the past is a pundit tracker. It seems ridiculous that the same pundits who were all over the airwaves telling everyone that Iraqis would “greet us as liberators” and that the Iraqi WMD program was a clear and present danger can still show their faces in public without being hooted down — and yet I see them every day, being taken very seriously, while people who were _right_ about Iraq (and took a lot of abuse for it) are still written off as “on the fringe”.

    Seems like somebody should be watching these people and keeping score on how often their prognostications turn out to actually be correct…

    Reply

  2. It seems almost like a Wikipedia project, doesn’t it?

    It’s not impossible to determine if they were correct in their prediction or not.

    In the case of news, it’s like polling. It would be easy to reverse-engineer the grid that each network uses, and then give a score to each segment and at the end of the day add them up.

    Then you could do a set of TV listings (a mashup!) that only showed news programs that achieved a certain rating. Or maybe your brain feels overworked and you only want “news” programs that score a zero.

    How ridiculous it’s gotten. Imagine an airline that, instead of taking you to Chicago, as advertised, instead gave you burgers and left you right where you were. Sure, the burgers taste better than airline food, but you got on the plane to actually go somewhere!

    Reply

  3. To some degree, there are people doing this already. Media Matters for America, for example, is great as an archive of ridiculous pundit-sayings — but only from the right, and they don’t do any quantitative analysis for the pundit, just log the saying. SourceWatch (from the Center for Media and Democracy) is a Wiki that tracks the doings of PR/media relations outlets; it’s more evenhanded than MMFA, but not oriented towards pundits who don’t take funding directly from corporate clients. FactCheck.org started out to do pretty much what you’re talking about, but their analyses tend to be overly cautious and oriented towards the conventional wisdom, rather than uncomfortable truths.

    Reply

  4. How is factcheck.org related to what I proposed? I’m not asking for a rating of accuracy, I just want to know how much of what their shows contain is news vs human interest junk news.

    Reply

  5. Posted by David on January 17, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Dave, the problem with this is you’re defining “news” through your own ideological lens, and are then claiming it to be etched in granite. If you want to consume the kind of news you claim, there are dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of sites around the ‘Net to find it.

    I find it somewhat odd, given your social/technological POV, that you’re fixated on television-delivered news as an opinion-shaper (if you haven’t noticed, approval of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy is at an all-time low, despite the “manipulation” you claim.) This isn’t 1968, and there’s no Cronkite to shape US opinion any more. Isn’t that a good thing?

    Give the American people some credit, and also recognize there are those who choose NOT to consume “hard” news (as you define it.) The market, as always, adapts.

    Reply

  6. David, I knew someone would say that, but it’s not true.

    You can count the number of people who are affected by teh story that dominated the news last night, it’s not about anyone’s idealogical lens, that’s the point. There’s no impact of that supposed news.

    Sorry you find it odd, but that’s life. Hope you learn something from it.

    Like I said in an earlier post, with a rating you might choose to watch something that masquerades as news but actually doesn’t contain any. Like rating the number of calories in food, you should know what you’re getting. And when an airline says its taking you somewhere it shoudl actually take you there. Same with news.

    Reply

  7. How is factcheck.org related to what I proposed?

    Maybe it’s not — your post spurred me to think a little more broadly than maybe you intended it to :-)

    Reply

  8. Thank you, Dave, because you are absolutely right. Little of TV news is news, and it has been that way for a while. TV news has failed the public in so many ways, especially with regards to elections, that arguing that TV news is a waste of time is a waste of time in and of itself. TV news only serves the most emotional and intellectually dense of Americans, with anyone who actually cares about getting the real story, well-rounded coverage, and proper analysis and information about public figures, those people all turn to other mediums to better serve them.

    Reply

  9. Posted by billg on January 17, 2007 at 9:43 am

    I suspect the only ratings system that the networks have reason to care about is the one that determines their advertising rates. A network opts for human interest stories because they think it’s the more profitable alternative. That, in essence, is the reason we’re inundated with pundits and talking heads. It’s much cheaper to do a studio show with a guy yammering behind a desk than it is to deploy the kind of field staff that’s needed to do original hard news journalism. (That’s why most newspapers rely on wire service copy: They can’t afford the staff. It’s also why Google, etc., can make money aggregating news created by other people. They’re doing essentially the same thing most local papers have been doing for years, only faster: Collecting and presenting stories by other people.)

    For some reason, people also like to watch a bunch of reporters talking to each other. That’s cheap, too.

    The networks call all this stuff “news”, but it isn’t. It’s entertainment that’s exploiting the news created by real journalists.

    TV and radio also work in time-constrained mediums, whereas newspapers and web sites work in space-constrained mediums. That means when a network devotes a two-hour chunk to a kidnapping story it is much more apparent than it is when a web site or a newspaper delivers an equivalent amount of coverage to a single story. TV and radio can only deliver one kind of content, one story, at a time. Viewers and listeners can stay or leave. Newspapers and web sites can present as many stories, simultaneously, as they choose. Readers can ignore a great deal and still stay with the source.

    The real battle is to ensure that enough hard news providers continue to exist so those of us who want real news can get it. Better, I think, to focus on that than to expect any single source to be all things to all people.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Nick Irelan on January 17, 2007 at 9:54 am

    Dave, I understand what you want to do, but you are making it much more complicated than it should be. If you want to filter out stories you consider to be “fluff” all you have to do is write a program that reads the descriptions of shows in the TV listings. Then you can decide what program you would like to watch.

    I would like to hear more about what qualifies news from you. If a blog is supposed to deliver news why is it that you don’t seem to stick to the things you tell CNN to stick to?

    Reply

  11. The emphasis at this site — NewsTrust — is print, but it looks like a stab at what you’re talking about, Dave.

    Assessing the big broadcast and cable nets would be a great, distributed citizen journalism project. A major challenge: Bringing subjective judgment to bear on what looks like an objective task. The Anderson Cooper vs. CNN Headline News call looks easy, but I think you need a way to score the quality of content as well as its quantity. Anderson Cooper=one fuzzy human-interest story= a score of zero. Headline News=lots of quick hits on lots of stories with no context and next-to-no analysis=a score of zero-plus (if you equate quality with story count, the industry champion might be the hourly CBS Radio News. Listen to that carefully sometime and tally the number of different stories and “actualities” they get on).

    That having been said, you’re right that it’s easy to pull apart the shows’ blocks and describe/score them.

    Reply

  12. Posted by billg on January 17, 2007 at 10:30 am

    >>”…The Anderson Cooper vs. CNN Headline News call looks easy…”

    It is easy, db, because one is doing news and the other often is not. It’s like comparing People magazine to the NYT’s first section.

    If the networks want to label pundits, talking heads, sob stories, etc., as news, that’s their business. But, the rest of us should not be suckered by that and we should not allow it to become our frame of reference.

    Dave is right to be annoyed by all the un-news that’s out there, but I think expecting to get hard news from the big cable and TV networks is a bit like expecting to eat a macrobiotic diet at MacDonalds.

    Reply

  13. I’d rather not create a precedent for rewarding incompetent and corrupt presidents (any more than they are already rewarded). Besides, I doubt $150 million can really amount to anything against the value of remaining in office for another 2 years.

    What we need isn’t a sweeter carrot. What we need is a bigger, thornier stick.

    Reply

  14. billg: I agree Dave’s right to be annoyed. What I’m saying is that you have to assess the value of what you’re really getting from “all-news” outlets like CNN Headline News. Is it better than fluff or pure sensationalism (hey, whatever happened to that girl who went missing in Aruba)? Yes. But it’s necessary to measure depth as well as breadth. That’s all I’m saying.

    Reply

  15. “Dave’s right to be annoyed.”

    This is silly!!

    Come on no one is right to be annoyed or wrong to be annoyed.

    What’s even worse is that I am not annoyed.

    I am motivated.

    The girl who went missing in Aruba is the issue. And why she displaced the 10,000 people who died in Iraq while all the talking heads were obsessing over her fate.

    Want to know what pisses me off in the meantime? (As opposed to annoying me.)

    That Anderson Cooper is becoming a correspondent on 60 Minutes.

    That is what we call chutzpah. And scary shit. 60 Minutes is something like the last bastion. When they go, you know it’s over.

    Reply

  16. You’re right to be pissed off, Dave.

    Reply

  17. Very interesting post on rating news.

    It seems to me that you and Jeff Jarvis are really talking about the same thing. If your attention can be accurately measured, then merely changing the channel from CNN to Headline News would register your preference, since Headline News would do better in the attention statisics Jeff is talking about.

    Reply

  18. Cute. George Bush has a better chance of making more than $150 million by keeping ANY war going on in Iraq. By being friends of friends of the private firms supplying the troops he stands to make money. THEN there is the oil cash as well.

    “We” are already paying more than $150 million as taxpayers to fund his recessive-gene patriarchal cause. But I am sure you already know this and are trying your hand at being a professional comedian.

    Wink. Wink. Nudge. Nudge. Say. No. More.

    Reply

  19. Someone just gave me a link to this post because it’s related to what I do with my own blog. Each night I recap and review the broadcast of Anderson Cooper 360 and give it a grade. They had been doing well not that long ago, but these past few nights with the missing boys story have been pretty bad. My blog can be found at:

    http://andersoncooper360review.blogspot.com/

    Your post really reminded me of what I wrote after the broadcast of Corey Lidle’s plane flying into that building in New York:

    http://andersoncooper360review.blogspot.com/2006/10/example-of-everything-that-is-wrong.html

    “My main problem with going bonkers over stories like this accident is that, except to the people they directly affect, they don’t impact anything. A year from now someone might say, ‘Hey remember when that Yankee flew his plane into a building?’ And you’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And that will be it. Maybe I’m wrong and this will spurn a discussion and changes in small plane rules, but for the most part I think this will quickly go down the memory hole. In the meantime, what news that will impact all of our lives went uncovered?”

    Come check me out.

    Reply

  20. Posted by billg on January 17, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Dave: Annoyed, pissed off or motivated — pick a description — you’re correct to feel that way. But, the networks would run black and white still shots of you and me and call it “hard news” if they could sell advertising behind it.

    I think independently rating news shows is an interesting idea. But, I think you’re banging your head against an immovable object. I don’t think the rating itself would motivate the networks to change anything.
    They would tell you that they lose viewers when they do the story about interest rates. They would tell you that they gain viewers when they do stories about lost kids. They would tell you that they won’t run news programming at a loss.

    The networks don’t care what we think of their shows. They only care that we watch. The best way (the only way, I suspect) to get pablum-disguised-as-news off the air is to get people to turn the channel. I don’t think they will. If you ran hard news on every channel at 6:00 p.m., I think most people would turn the TV off.

    Meanwhile, that stuff is on because people watch it. I mean, look at the crap that’s aired as entertainment since they invented “reality” shows. I think it’s pandering rubbish. But, it’s there because it’s cheaper to produce than scripted programming and because people watch it.

    Tie a rating system into something that measures actual behavior and shows networks that people are turning the pablum off, if they do.

    Reply

  21. Getting back to Dave’s (and Jeff’s) original point, isn’t the issue really the provider-advertiser-reader compact, or business model? (Rather than assessing audience interest?) If it can be shown to be bogus, what does that mean for the future of “TV news”? Most people I know fall into 2 categories re TV. They either don’t watch it at all (out of disgust with ads as well as content) or they TiVo (or equivalent) everything to avoid commercials. TV is not about legitimate news, the kind Dave cares about, but about entertainment, so it’s natural that providers focus on missing blondes and kidnapped kids (don’t forget the Jon Benet hoo-hah). If you could prove that nobody bought advertised merchandise from these broadcasts, it wouldn’t help make an argument to improve “news.” The argument would be to replace “news” with yet another reality TV show. Or advertorial weight-loss, hair-replacement or body-enhancing programming.

    Like anyone else I’m constantly polled by companies (“advertisers”) on how I learned about a product, or why I purchased a product. I always write down Internet. And when publications ask me why I’m stopping my subscription I write down Internet. Companies/advertisers will get that message if they aren’t already.

    Forget TV news. Forget print. And then doesn’t the measurement become much more easily quantifiable?

    (As a side note, if I were Anderson Cooper and cared about journalism, hey, I’d switch to 60 Minutes too! You think he LIKES doing week-long segments on Aruba blondes?)

    Reply

  22. Posted by billg on January 17, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    >>”…I write down Internet…”

    But, Paul, if everyone abandoned TV for the net, what’s to stop the same thing from happening there? I’m not forgetting ease-of-access and all that. I just think that legitimate hard news is of interest only to a minority, regardless of the medium it’s on. It’s a lot easier to make money catering to the whims of a minority on the web than it is in the press or on TV. Whether that’s enough money to support a professional news organization is another matter.

    Reply

  23. Posted by Russell Gum on January 17, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    We need RSS for news stories. Subscribe to whatever categories you want and view them You Tube style.

    Reply

  24. Posted by ivy on January 17, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Want to know what pisses me off in the meantime? (As opposed to annoying me.)
    That Anderson Cooper is becoming a correspondent on 60 Minutes.

    Dave, I agree with your assessment of the latest missing boys coverage and the amount of “human interest” vs hard news. But I don’t think it’s right to
    put equality sign between Anderson Cooper as a news show anchor and Anderson Cooper as a reporter. Let’s be fair.

    Reply

  25. The Bush Early Retirement Fund concept came out of an idea passed around the table at last week’s BreakfastCabal gathering; I think I started that particular conversation thread, but Sylvia and others expressed it further (I dont recall whether George Lakoff was there at the time).

    I got as far as exploring some possible websites for the concept, but Macworld Expo and some other stuff took precedence. If someone I know/trust wants to run with it, I’ll send some dailyKos diary linkage its way.

    The State of the Union represents a great opportunity for launch, it seems like something that could get some interesting research data out of it as well, through people’s quantification and how they change the values over time.

    Should it be a Bush-Cheney fund? Something more generic like betting-on-death sites… i.e. you pick the person and build retirement pools?

    Part of the whole idea is not just to get them to accept the pledges, but rather to showcase how much value they’re receiving by not retiring now, bring light to the intrinsic incentives and see who is benefiting/paying for them to hold onto power.

    Reply

  26. Posted by Jeffrey Jones on January 17, 2007 at 7:18 pm

    I Hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as “news” on major media any longer. All TV, print, and Radio is owned and controlled by a hadful of companies that have their own agenda. The only thing they care about is their control of the information americans get to consume and how they profit from it.

    Wath the movie “Orwell rolls in his grave” I mentioned this last week, but it is even more relevant to this discussion.

    Reply

  27. Posted by Stewart on January 18, 2007 at 1:12 am

    Do u get BBC World Dave?

    Reply

  28. Posted by Jim Mason on January 18, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    Dave,
    I can not believe that your suggestion to rid the country of President Bush. The next in line is V.P. Cheney (Under the 25th amendment to US Constitution)(i.e. Ford took over when Nixon Resigned). I would give anything not to have that happen.

    Reply

  29. This cause is noble but it almost seems hopeless. I mean – TV is such a dumb medium, its almost always going to cater to the most base instincts. Also, lets face it the major / mainstream media are large corporations who sell audiences to other corporations. They’re just not going to let someone on who isn’t catering to their interests. I mean – guys like Joe Klein, William Kristol, Tom Friedman etc., are reflecting elite interests, their job is not to be truthful but to tell elites what they want to hear.

    The DC power structure basically determines media companies’ levels of profitability via regulations. Anyone who gets out of line (“the news hour with Noam Chomsky!”) can quickly be brought to heel. Further, the people who run these media companies wouldn’t dream of straying from the script, mainly because they see themselves as part of the elite power structure. All you have to do to see this in action is examine the (harsh) criticism of the Iraq war on the part of pundits and intellectuals in the MSM: always criticism of methods, never of motives. Nothing new here…

    Better to figure out how to fund some alternative / independent reporters in the mold of TalkingPointsMemo. next step? independent TV news and commentary. People are moving away from broadcast, towards on-demand web broadcasting.

    Reply

  30. Posted by Jake on January 18, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Instead of sniffing the closed caption text for news, perhaps “news” delivery needs to include a meta stream of content identifiers that identify a segment as entertainment, sports, human interest, political and so forth and supply a series of keyword tags. Does that exist? I don’t know.

    But that just allows you to filter out the stuff. It doesn’t improve the news by actually adding segments that you deem valuable or real news. The lack of collection and production of news is the problem. What will the soap companies sponsor? Good night, and good luck.

    And I’d agree that everyone has a different definition of news and views things through their own filters.

    I don’t mean to be callous, but interviews with the families of Iraqi casualties are the equivalent of girl killed in Aruba, hikers lost on Mt Hood, girl kidnapped in Utah, boys kidnapped in St Louis, child abducted in Florida. All are meaningless to me.

    Who thinks Scooter Libby’s perjury is more or less important than President Clinton’s perjury?

    Reply

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