Back That Thang Up

Via Shoptalk, I found this article today about the sad state of political coverage.

From Chicago’s Daily Herald, columnist Ted Cox writes:

The quality of political coverage on TV this season has been appalling. Not that I have ever expected anyone but PBS’ “NewsHour” to actually deal with substantive stands and parse speeches, but this year pundits on the major broadcast and cable networks have offered little more than flawed polls and political invective.

Cox argues TV pundits are avoiding substance because they’re “so obsessed [sic] competing with the blogosphere:”

It’s all about hits and eyeballs, and for someone like [Chris] Matthews, who doesn’t have the ability to deal with anything substantive and make it matter, being obnoxiously captivating is all he has to fall back on.

I disagree. I don’t think Matthews or the higher ups at MSNBC give two sh*ts about the blogosphere. I think they – like any cable or broadcast network – care about viewer numbers and ratings and subsequently, ad revenue. That’s why PBS can dig into the nitty gritty. They’ve got that freedom. Networks are businesses, and ultimately, how many people tune in dictates how much they charge for ad time which dictates how much money they have to pay for staff and gadgets and sets and facilities.

It doesn’t excuse TV talking heads’ bad behavior and poor judgment. We – as an industry – should ditch the speculation and guesswork and focus more on what matters. But the 24-hour news cycle demands cable nets fill the time.

Just like many are apt to babble to fill awkward silence on a bad date, so sit correspondents and analysts and anchors with hours to kill.

If I had to bring the blogosphere into this debate, I would actually argue the following instead. I don’t think TV people are competing with the blogosphere. I think they’re a little jealous of the blogosphere (stay with me) because you can speculate online. It is perfectly ok to “voice” your opinion. You’ve got unlimited space and no corporate accountability (unless you’re tied to a larger entity, in which case, that’s whatever deal you’ve negotiated with the powers that be.)

But generally, online reporters and correspondents have the freedom to take the conversation in whatever direction they please. And that liberty disappears when you answer to big business and big money.

So the bottom line is I agree with Cox in that we’d all be better served by more substance on TV, but tying lazy reporting to blog-chasing is wrong.

It – too – is misinformed speculation.

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