Beating up on [cable news’] excesses is like riding down the hill after a bloody battle and shooting the wounded.
David Carr, New York Times. Parodying Cable News With a Talk About Race.
On Tuesday night on MSNBC’s “All In,” Chris Hayes had a very direct conversation about race with the Gawker writer Cord Jefferson. Prompted by a news report of a group of young people in Huntington Beach, Calif., who looted and vandalized property, the pair lamented the lack of community leadership and suggested that acting out in that manner was a learned behavior.
It was a joke. Actually, there were two beats to the joke. The young people they were talking about were white. And the whole discussion was a put-on, a satire meant to show how lame the hoary race tropes of cable news have become.
As a comedy bit, it was very well done. Both men were straight-faced and earnest. Mr. Hayes, tapping his inner Bill O’Reilly, did a fine job of bloviating his way through an introduction heavy with outrage: “The story of the white criminal culture is not a story the mainstream media will tell you. But once you scratch the surface, these stories are everywhere you look.”
If you haven’t seen the segment, it’s well worth the five minutes to watch typical cable news tropes turned on their head.
Carr’s analysis of the segment hits the usual notes: cable’s inability (or unwillingness) to present nuance, and its manufactured outrage as it fills a 24 hour news hole. But he also discusses the very real effect of a (mostly younger) audience used to the news as presented by The Daily Show and Colbert Report, writing, “MSNBC was temporarily acting as a kind of self-cleaning oven, parodying the excesses of cable from a very near distance.”
For his part, Hayes tells Carr, “The biggest challenge is to find a way to surprise viewers and subvert expectations. The format is in need of evolution.”
You have to make stuff. The tools of journalism are in your hands and no one is going to give a damn about what is on your resume, they want to see what you have made with your own little fingies. Can you use Final Cut Pro? Have you created an Instagram that is about something besides a picture of your cat every time she rolls over? Is HTML 5 a foreign language to you? Is your social media presence dominated by a picture of your beer bong, or is it an RSS of interesting stuff that you add insight to? People who are doing hires will have great visibility into what you can actually do, what you care about and how you can express on any number of platforms.
When I first got here and was watching the page one meeting, I’d watch them decide what were going to be the six most important stories in the western world for the following day’s paper. Meanwhile the web’s above their heads, where all stories are becoming interchangeable. I thought, ‘Oh, this is so silly to blow a whistle and say, “Stop! These are the stories worth your attention.’”
But now that I’m bathed in information every single day and stuff is wooshing by me, I kind of love the full-stop arrangement of stories on The New York Times. A lot of times I wake up and think about the day that’s just passed and wonder, ‘What was that? What happened?’ A lot of stuff, and I can’t really tell which part of it was important.
The easy lesson might be that journalism is not a game of bean bag, and it would be best left to professionals. But we are in a pro-am informational world where news comes from all directions. Traditional media still originate big stories, but many others come from all corners — books, cellphone videos, blogs and, yes, radio shows built on storytelling.
As news surges on the Web, giant ocean liners like AOL and Yahoo are being outmaneuvered by the speedboats zipping around them, relatively small sites that have passionate audiences and sharply focused information.
David Carr, The New York Times, News Trends Tilt Toward Niche Sites.
Carr writes that Internet scale used to matter as companies like AOL and Yahoo cast a general interest net far and wide in order to create a “frame” around Web content.
However, these companies are no longer the frame. Instead, the browser is, and news readers and viewers know exactly how to manage their media diets.
Now, instead of big general interest sites, small hyperfocussed, niche content sites are running circles around them because they can shift quickly without bureaucratic friction slowing them down.
"Innovation usually requires the “two pizza rule” — a working group should be no larger than one that could be well fed by two pies — with the emphasis on lightweight hierarchy, rapid decisions and constant reiteration of those decisions as the market responds," Carr writes. "When that kind of approach is suddenly plopped into a huge, heaving bureaucracy, everything that made the brand cool in the first place and the site a good place to work seems to evaporate."
A big part of the reason he is such an effective aggregator for both audiences and news sites is that he actually acts like one. Behemoth aggregators like Yahoo News and The Huffington Post have become more like fun houses that are easy to get into and tough to get out of. Most of the time, the summary of an article is all people want, and surfers don’t bother to click on the link. But on The Drudge Report, there is just a delicious but bare-bones headline, there for the clicking. It’s the opposite of sticky, which means his links actually kick up significant traffic for other sites.
Gannett’s flagship, USA Today, is a once-robust national newspaper but has lost 20 percent of its circulation in the last three years. About a week ago, I was at the Marriott in Detroit, and as I stepped over the newspaper at my door as I usually do, I then wondered why. It occurred to me that everything in that artifact that would be useful for me — scores from the teams I follow, a brief on big news and a splash of entertainment coverage — I had already learned on my smartphone and tablet before leaving the room.
New York Times media critic David Carr explores the troubles the publisher Gannett finds itself in, including the symbolically unsavory bonuses it gave it executives while putting its reporters on furlough.
David Carr, New York Times, At Gannett, Furloughs but Nice Paydays for Brass