Category Archives: Media

Did Anyone Notice or Care?

A couple of noteworthy and related things happened this weekend:

  1. The Winston-Salem Journal endorsed Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson for President.
  2. No one really gave a s&*%.

Now the Winston-Salem Journal isn’t what you’d call a widely read newspaper, but it is the major daily for a city of about 230,000 and in the past this decision would have been notable. The muted reaction could be because the Richmond Times-Dispatch did it first, but honestly I don’t think anyone cares what the editorial boards of any of the papers think. If that’s not a sign of how little influence local dailies have these days I don’t know what is.

 

The Today Show President

If Donald Trump becomes POTUS you can give The Today Show a lot of credit, or blame, for it. If you turned on the show on any given week over the last year, roughly the amount of time since Trump announced his candidacy, you almost certainly saw a segment with him being interviewed, discussed or profiled. Of course he’s gotten a lot of play from other networks as well, but The Today Show has ridden him like the ratings pony he is and as a result he’s gotten enough free media attention to negate any fundraising or operational advantage that the more traditional candidates enjoyed.

Interestingly, an article in today’s Wall Street Journal points out that a tactic Trump employed in the 90s to save his businesses has morphed into a winning campaign strategy. From the article:

His success at creating a luxury brand stemmed from building his own celebrity as much as Trump Tower’s fine marble. With Ivana, a former model, by his side, he flaunted his flashy lifestyle and surrounded himself with the rich and famous…

Mr. Trump acknowledged his business was “overleveraged” but blamed falling property values for his financial woes. By then, the U.S. economy was in a tailspin and Mr. Trump couldn’t make debt payments…

Mr. Trump didn’t repay his personal debts to the bank group until 1995. But he proclaimed his comeback as early as 1992 to the media. That year, he told New Jersey gaming regulators his net worth was $437 million to $1.6 billion.

His new business model: He could do deals without taking on more debt by selling his brand and marketing skills.

It was a more conservative strategy that foreshadowed a bare-bones primary campaign relying more on free publicity than fundraising and staff. “Having built a great name and a great reputation and a great brand I guess was good,” Mr. Trump said. “And I get very high ratings…That’s a tremendous advantage. No politician ever had that.”

So there you have it. Trump may seem to be a blustering buffoon, but if nothing else he’s proven the value of a brand and he’s literally taking it to the bank. And to TV, which is where The Today Show comes in.

This morning (July 21, 2016) the show ran a segment about how many times Trump has appeared on the show since the early 80s. It was meant as a lighthearted affair, with comments about how much Matt Lauer’s hair had changed while Trump’s hadn’t, but it inadvertently drove home the point that, to date, the show has had as much to do with Trump’s campaign success as anything else. It also can’t be a coincidence that it’s the flagship show of the network that aired Trump’s greatest branding coup, aka The Apprentice.

While it’s not The Today Show’s job to play gatekeeper of the presidency – after all, this is a show that will transition from a serious news story directly to a segment about celebrity hairstyles – it is one of the most watched shows in the country on a daily basis so it provides a seriously influential platform to anyone who appears. You take away Trump’s appearances on the show over the last year and I’m willing to bet his vote count would have been cut by 10% or more. That’s a BHAG (big hairy as guess) on my part, but I’m sure the number would be significant.

What does this mean for the country? In the short term, it means we have the weirdest race for POTUS in modern history. In the long term, not much. There just aren’t the many orange-haired narcissists who have a personal brand they can utilize at a unique point in history when an angry electorate has on the kind of beer goggles that make that kinda guy look attractive.

Making the Media His Biotches

This article about how Donald Trump is controlling the media came to my attention via a friend on Facebook as you can see below:

TrumpMedia

I particularly like David Boyd’s comment that it  “Helps that they’re such willing bitches.” It’s understandable that the media want to cover Trump – after all he is the phenomenon of this political season – and I understand that they are competing for ‘share of mind’ of an increasingly diminished audience of news watchers, but when do they finally say, “You know what, this a-hole’s been able to run an incredibly inexpensive campaign because we give him so much free air time” and then cut HIM off. He truly needs them far more than they need him, so why keep feeding the troll?

Could it be that they’re desperate to prove they’re still needed, still the Fourth Estate, still an essential part of the democratic process? Maybe they’re finally realizing that what they thought was simply a nightmare they would wake up is reality – that most people don’t read, watch or listen to them anymore. They’ve got Facebook and so does Trump, so no one thinks they need the media anymore. Sadly, they’re probably right and wrong at the same time.

Caveat Lector

The next time you read, see or hear a news story related to dietary or health study claims you might want to keep remember story titled “I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How” 

“Slim by Chocolate!” the headlines blared. A team of German researchers had found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. It made the front page of Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, just beneath their update about the Germanwings crash. From there, it ricocheted around the internet and beyond, making news in more than 20 countries and half a dozen languages. It was discussed on television news shows. It appeared in glossy print, most recently in the June issue of Shape magazine (“Why You Must Eat Chocolate Daily,” page 128). Not only does chocolate accelerate weight loss, the study found, but it leads to healthier cholesterol levels and overall increased well-being. The Bild story quotes the study’s lead author, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D., research director of the Institute of Diet and Health: “The best part is you can buy chocolate everywhere.”

I am Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. Well, actually my name is John, and I’m a journalist. I do have a Ph.D., but it’s in the molecular biology of bacteria, not humans. The Institute of Diet and Health? That’s nothing more than a website.

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

Here’s how we did it.

You really should read the whole thing to see exactly how easy it is to game the science journalism field. And if you want to be happy you should also embrace the strategy of believing the studies that purport to show the health benefits of eating/drinking whatever you want and ignoring those that claim those same habits are unhealthy.

Works for me.

It Ain’t Just How College Students Get the News

John Robinson, not long ago the editor of the Greensboro News & Record, is now teaching journalism to students at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s written a blog post about how his students get their news, and while it’s not exactly shocking, it’s still interesting.

This is how one of my student’s began the diary of her day’s media interactions:

  • 8:15 a.m.: phone alarm sounds, snooze it
  • 8:30 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, snooze it
  • 8:45 a.m.: phone alarm sounds again, turn it off
  • 8:50 a.m.: begin checking phone
  • Check text messages, respond
  • Check UNC emails
  • Check personal emails
  • Check Facebook
  • Check Twitter
  • Check Yik Yak
  • 9:05 a.m. Turn on laptop and begin work

That’s pretty much how she ended the day, too, minus the alarm.

I had 35 students in one of my classes record every interaction with media they had over the course of two days. The exercise surprised most of them with how reliant — addicted, in the words of several — they are to their phones and to social media. Putting aside the above student’s wake-up routine, it’s worth noting where her first stops of the day are not:No newspaper, no TV for news or otherwise, no CNN website. If it isn’t on her social media, she’s not going to get it.

That’s not uncommon, either. In fact, it would be more common if you add two more stops: “Check Instagram.” And “Check Snapchat. Respond to Snaps.”

As I read this I had to chuckle because if you were to push the time frame up – I am almost 50 and I have a hard time remembering the last time I slept that late – that’s pretty much how I roll in the morning too. I do consume news directly from traditional sources like newspapers, TV news and magazines, but honestly I do that more for depth and background than for news itself. Almost all of the interesting stories I read are shared with me by someone on one of my multitude of social networks and I seriously doubt I’m the only person in my demographic who can say that.

Later on in his post John writes, “They simply don’t access a great deal of mainstream news media outlets in their course of the day. They often get the news indirectly. But they still get it. (I was a college student once pre-Internet and they know a lot more about what’s going on in the world than most of my classmates did.)” That was true of my college experience too. So many people gave me funny looks when they saw me reading a newspaper or magazine even though it wasn’t assigned school work. Sure, plenty of people cared about news but many did not then and still don’t to this day.

What’s interesting to me is that most people I know in the working world already behave the way his students do. Many of them never paid attention to the news before social networks, and now they actually do because they’re bombarded by shares from their friends. (The reliability of these sources can be questioned, but that’s a post for another day). In my mind if a media company figures out the sharing economy then it’s made itself relevant. If not? Well, bless their hearts.

We Are Journalism

Lex has a post about the state of American journalism that ends thus:

Nobody’s coming to save American journalism. Some observers have finally figured that out. And we’ve seen that right here in Greensboro, where billionaire Warren Buffett, the News & Record’s new(-ish) owner who has repeatedly professed his love for newspapers, has made it abundantly clear that he has no use for newspaper people. When the Batten family decided to get their money out of the news bidness and put the N&R and the Landmark chain’s other papers up for sale, Buffett was seen as a savior. Not so much, it has turned out.

At the front lines of journalism, reporters have to report. What’s  your best story? Give THAT to your editor, then, and forget the craven or just plain silly assignments that come down from the publisher and the executive editor and the managing editor. Your bosses might have a nose for real news, but my observation of American journalism leads me to think the odds are very much against it anymore. So, you with the laptop, you with the camera, you with the microphone, you with the blog: You’re it. You are all there is. Go get better, go do better. Because it’s you or nobody.

Another way to look at it is that the Fourth Estate is being crowd sourced. Let’s get to it people.