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METAMORPHOSIS

 


By Geoff Metcalf

March 21, 2005

NewsWithViews.com

An increasing amount of commentary and analysis is being directed at the mainstream media.

The once lofty ‘Fourth Estate’, the people’s guardians of the truth, are getting whacked on: Content, credibility, bias, prejudice, malfeasance, and myopia. And they deserve it.

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henniger recently wrote, [Read]“The golden era of the network anchorman ended about ten years ago, when FOX and MSNBC joined CNN with constant news programming. With that, the news dominance of CBS, NBC and ABC washed out to sea.” He does a superb job cataloging the history and ‘grandiosity’ of network news history.

However, allow me the presumption of suggesting Henniger misses a critical point. The attrition of network news is less a function of the cable newbies and more a direct consequence of the networks arrogance and malfeasance. They created their monster.

The networks created the market that the ‘new media’ is exploiting. Audiences have moved to cable news, talk radio and the Internet because the networks refused to provide content that was wanted and needed. Nature abhors a vacuum. The networks created the vacuum that was filled by ‘new media’.

Henninger says, “By the time Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw retired, they were Lears in a dying kingdom, overrun by barbarian talk-show hosts and Internet bloggers.”

As one of the ‘barbarians’ let me say our success is a result of the networks inability to listen to the voice of the audience (or the ethereal baritone in ‘Field of Dreams’ who told Kevin Costner, “If you build it they will come…”).

I interviewed Bernie Goldberg just prior to the release of his book ‘Bias’. Goldberg said, “What we call liberal bias is a cultural bias. The cultural bias is that these guys overwhelmingly live in Manhattan and Washington, D.C.” That may be part of the problem but it’s not the whole problem.

I asked him what has become a staple question for me to mainstream media types. I have asked this of Jack Germond, Bob Novak, Dave Barry, Reed Irvine, John Stossel, Matt Drudge, Bill O'Reilly – even Reed Hundt (Clinton's former FCC commissioner). It's pretty simple. The networks have more resources; they have more money, more equipment, more technology, and "They are hemorrhaging audience." So, when are they going to get hip and acknowledge that all they have to do is provide the audience what they want and what they are not getting in the mainstream now?

Goldberg responded, “I don't think that the news guys will do it, because they don't even acknowledge they have a problem. I think your question is a great one, but it should be aimed at the head guys of the conglomerates that the news divisions are a part of.”

Viacom, General Electric and Disney own the networks. Three huge conglomerates run by real smart people. So why do real smart people (with a fiduciary responsibility to share holders and a Board of Directors) continue to do real stupid stuff?

Everyone I have asked (including Goldberg) maintain the networks are not going to change. Rather, they will continue to float down the river ‘Denial’ loosing audience like a grandmother feeding nickels into a slot machine.

I disagree with all those guys smarter and more insightful than me. I predict within three years you will see ‘someone’ implement changes that are needed and obvious.

I often note that some people just don’t want to be confused with facts that contradict their preconceived opinions or prejudices. There is a wonderful history lesson about ‘How Specifications Live Forever!

It explains why the U.S. Standard Railroad Gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number…and a direct function of refusal to change.

Why was that size used? Because that's the way they built them in England. The English used that gage because the pre-railroad trams used that. The tram buildings used spacing the wagon builder used. The wagon builders were accommodating road ruts. The road ruts where made by Romans war chariots…designed to be pulled by two horses hitched side-by-side.

The U.S. Standard Railroad Gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the specification for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. Two thousand years later, and an ocean away, the track layout of the entire U.S. railway network is based upon the fact that Imperial Roman chariots were made to be just wide enough to accommodate the rear-ends of two war horses.

Specifications and bureaucracies function by inertial drive.

Network diffidence to fix what is broke may be the fault of some horse’s derriere, but notwithstanding the protestations of my betters, I still predict change will happen (sooner rather than later)…even if it takes another hind end of a horse in Armani to do it.

© 2005 Geoff Metcalf - All Rights Reserved

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"Geoff Metcalf is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host for TALK AMERICA and a veteran media performer. He has had an eclectic professional background covering a wide spectrum of radio, television, magazine, and newspapers. A former Green Beret and retired Army officer he is in great demand as a speaker. Visit Geoff's Web Site: www.geoffmetcalf.com. While you're at it - pick up a copy of Geoff's latest book!  E-mail: geoff@geoffmetcalf.com


 

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Viacom, General Electric and Disney own the networks. Three huge conglomerates run by real smart people. So why do real smart people (with a fiduciary responsibility to share holders and a Board of Directors) continue to do real stupid stuff?