Basques, Media

More Bad News…for the Press

New Survey Shows Decline in Public Confidence

The Pew Center is out with a new survey that may help explain some of the demise of the so called “main stream” media.

As the chart illustrates, the percentage of Americans who believe the media generally gets the facts straight has declined from 55% in 1985 to 29% this year.

From the Pew report: “Similarly, only about a quarter (26%) now say that news organizations are careful that their reporting is not politically biased, compared with 60% who say news organizations are politically biased. And the percentages saying that news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations (20%) or are willing to admit their mistakes (21%) now also match all-time lows.”

A piece at Forbes on-line comes to a different conclusion, saying Pew failed to define its terms properly by lumping the wild hodgepodge of “media” in with your local TV newscast and daily fish wrapper.

“In other words, if you consider Glenn Beck’s tirades journalism, or get your news from posts on, they were lumped in with your opinions about The New York Times.”

Fair enough – maybe. The facts are that traditional sources of news – local and national papers and network evening news programs, for example – are not nearly as relied upon as information sources as they were just a few years ago. Part of the reason, I suspect, is confidence and perhaps even more importantly relevance.

Here’s a fearless prediction: in a bid to survive, more and more newspapers will follow the direction of the cable channels and offer up a “news product” with a distinct point of view. The business model will be to further fragment the market in the interest of talking to the audience that wants its “news” to reaffirm its perspective rather than challenge any assumptions.

Look for the confidence numbers to continue to decline.

Basques, Media

Media Odds and Ends

TrahantMark Trahant: Health Care Discussion too Narrow

Thoughtful commentary from Fort Hall, Idaho native Mark Trahant on the current health care debate. Trahant writes in Indian Country Today.

Trahant, the former editorial page editor of the Seattle P-I, is serving a stint as a Kaiser Media Fellow assessing the Indian Health Service and what it can tell us about the current controversy.

Tribune Soft on Cubs?

Has the Chicago Tribune, long the owner of the city’s National League baseball club, always taken it easy on the Cubs? Nah…it is merely perception according to a piece on the Tribune sports page. Right.

Still, the Cubbies’ new ownership removes the stigma that baseball coverage of the northsiders always slighted the White Sox on the Second City’s southside.

Favorable coverage or not, the Cubs are still wallowing in a 100-plus year World Series drought and the 2009 post-season is looking more and more, well, doubtful.

As they say: “Anyone can have a bad century.” There is even a website.

Times Picks on J.C. Penney

My blood runs cold this time of year as I remember the dread I would feel as my mother hustled me off to J.C. Penney to acquire a new season of “school clothes.” I hated the whole experience, not least because mom’s ideas about “new” fashion never seemed to be on the same page with mine.

When I was growing up, however, it was pretty much a trip to Penney’s or ordering from the Montgomery Ward catalog.

The New York Times found out that the James Cash Penney’s stores – the first was in Kemmerer, Wyoming – still enjoys some brand loyalty. The Times “reviewed” the new store in Manhattan and got lots of push back for a pretty snarky piece by a fashion reviewer. Executive Editor Bill Keller even saying, as reported by the Times’ Public Editor, that he wished the story hadn’t run. His mother shopped at Penney’s, too.

Do you think all this will serve to re-enforce the notion that the Times is out of touch with middle America?

And, finally…

I was pleased to be asked recently by the Idaho Press Club to pen a piece for the venerable organization’s newsletter. The experience certainly dated me, however. I served as president of the Club in 1978.

We hardly had color TV in those days.

Baseball, Basques, Media, Politics

Lessons From Obama Online

Obama“Propelled by Internet, Barack Obama Wins Presidency”Wired, November 4, 2009

A fascinating new report from two environmentally oriented foundations – Brainerd and Wilberforce – slices and dices the Obama For America online campaign of last year and offers some interesting conclusions not entirely in keeping with the media hype.

You can access the report – Online Tactics & Success – An examination of the Obama For America New Media Campaignhere.

The 42-page analysis concludes that, while the Obama team did a remarkable job utilizing email and the web in the 2008 campaign, the online success had more to do with the candidate than the technology. “The energy and enthusiasm of Obama supporters was unprecedented in modern elections,” the report says, allowing the new media team the daily – or hourly – ability to push a great “product.”

The foundations commissioned the analysis in order to learn what lessons non-profits should take away from the Obama campaign, but there is something here for everyone interested in how the Internet is remaking communication.

Like much of the rest of Obama’s historic march to the White House, the brilliance of the online campaign was in the quality of its execution. The report’s authors highlight seven key findings.

  1. Discipline: Develop best practices and stick with them. “ONLY send content that you know your supports will value.” And, have the discipline “to stay ON message.”
  2. The Right People: Obama campaign manager David Plouffe saw to it that the new media effort wasn’t organized as part of communications or finance, but as a stand alone part of the campaign. He then recruited top people from CNN, Google and Madison Avenue to staff what became an 81 person unit.
  3. Spotlight on Supporters: “The campaign made a concerted and deliberate effort to keep the spotlight on the people who supported Obama, and not just on the candidate.”
  4. Nimbleness: “The campaign was able to turn on a dime and launch a fundraising email within hours of [Sarah] Palin’s speech” criticizing “community organizers.” The email generated $11 million in contributions in a single day.
  5. Authenticity: “OFA managed to do something unique – share real, inside campaign information with its supporters, while making that information accessible and meaningful. Plouffe said: “Nothing is more important than authenticity. People have very sensitive bullshit-o-meters.”
  6. Content Matters: “From top notch emails, to 1,800 videos, to amazing graphic design, the new media team demonstrated a serious focus on content.”
  7. Data-Driven Culture: “More than any campaign in history, OFA was a data-driven operation.” The campaign created a six-person analytics team and tested and measured every aspect of the online program. “Entire projects were scrapped because the data showed they were not effective.”

The Brainerd/Wilberforce report offers this observation underscoring the essential requirement of any successful campaign – skillful execution:

“Fundamentally, the most successful elements of OFA’s new media program were not new. OFA’s new media team simply executed the same core strategies than many nonprofits have used for years – but they did so flawlessly.”


Basques, Media

Hewitt and the Prince of Darkness

HewittWhat Does This Tell Us?

Perhaps more than anyone, Don Hewitt, the CBS News executive who died this week, invented the idea of television news. Hewitt staged the Kennedy-Nixon debates, produced the early years of Walter Cronkite’s expanded 30 minute nightly broadcast, and invented “60 Minutes.”

I happened to be home nursing a nasty summer cold the day the TV news pioneer’s death was announced. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched (which I rarely do) the continuous loop of nasty health care hearings, celebrity gossip and talking head wisdom that passes for news on cable television that little of that content has much to do with the kind of television Don Hewitt pioneered at CBS.

The irony was palpable when a cable anchor, more at home presiding over a verbal slugfest than a eulogy for a television pioneer, waxed eloquently about Hewitt’s role in the development of the medium.

More irony in the nearly simultaneous passing of columnist Robert “The Prince of Darkness” Novak. With his long-time partner Roland Evans, Novak carved out an early reputation as a tough, well-sourced Washington reporter who broke big stories and stepped on big toes. The rise of cable talking head shows, the type of “news” program that places a premium on opinion (most of it blindly partisan) as opposed to real reporting, gave Novak a new audience. He seemed to relish being cast in the role of the gloomy disher of usually outraged opinion.

Still, with all his years of Washington experience, I often found myself wishing for a just little nuance, a bit of dispassionate insight from one with obviously so much depth. But, that’s hoping for too much from cable and from those who play a role on cable.

We all know the news business, and television news included, continues in a steep, deep decline. The reasons are many, no doubt, including the unbelievable rise of the “new media” thanks to the Internet. I’m from the old school, however, and still want to believe real content – not just overheated opinion in the guise of entertainment – still matters.

Don Hewitt knew something about news and also something about entertainment. With “60 Minutes” he skillfully and very lucratively combined the two. Bob Novak was a good reporter who adapted skillfully and lucratively to the strictures of cable talking head shows, but what he mostly did on the tube had little to do with news.

Both these old news hands had a role, I think, in the continuing evolution of they way we gain information, particularly political information. Stay tuned for the next chapter. I am not an optimist.

I am confident someone will become the next Novak. The “expert,” opinionated talking heads are a dime a dozen these days. I do wonder if there will ever be another Hewitt or worse, perhaps, if anyone really cares any longer about his kind of television.

Wheeler Center Plans Montana Media Conference

By the way, the good folks at the Burton K. Wheeler Center at Montana State University is planning a conference on Montana media issues this fall. “Failure to Inform:” Is There a Looming Media Crisis in Montana? is scheduled for Missoula September 30 and October 1. Sounds like a very timely gathering.