Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Insurance Debate: Excuse Me While I Let Out a Wheezy Sigh

Wow. Just when I thought broadcast news couldn't get any worse, it sinks to a whole, deeper, scummier, darker level. I say broadcast news, but the newspapers are just as bad. If I read one more poll from USA Today or NBC News, I might be forced to take direct action.

I thought the media, and the news media in particular had a public interest obligation. That's what I always hear the print dinosaurs whining about whenever I read yet another cliche about being an ink-stained wretch who wanted to give people the information they needed to function in a democracy. Ummm, apparently those days are over.

The coverage has turned into a window on the bizarre, and yes, I even admit, entertaining, match between the psycho anti-reform folks and the remarkably inarticulate, ill-informed elected Democrats who can't seem to answer the most basic questions about the proposals on the table. (I believe there are 5 - that's what PBS told me, and they are the most trusted news source in America, believe it or not.)

So I was quite gratified when My Man, Bill Moyers brought in his old buddy, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, and another guy to talk about how the media is covering this. But it got me thinking how hard it is for media outlets to make rational, thoughtful news decisions - in this case, broadcasting over and over again the marginal crazies who scream out questions and won't wait for an answer (and lest I am unclear, I am including the single payer folks in this. They are behaving in some cases equally shamefully.)

The toughest part, and I speak from personal experience, about being a journalist is standing by your work. It's even tougher when your organization abandons you (like Sulzberger abandoned Judy Miller, like CBS abandoned Dan Rather). It's tough to stand alone. But if two news people come together to tell the status quo that the news media is covering this "discussion" to the detriment of the public interest, then they're not alone anymore. If we all had a little courage to voice the absurdities of this most recent exercise in news insanity, then maybe we wouldn't be alone anymore.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Congress may be in summer recess, but the goliaths of commercial broadcasting interests are settling in for more battles in the debate over the Performance Rights Act.

In a nutshell: the Recording Industry Artists Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, formerly allies in the fight against "illegal" downloads of music, are fighting over the remaining crumbs of profit left from the broken business model of commercial radio.

The fight is really nothing new. RIAA has been agitating for performance royalties from commercial radio since forever. But what's relevant is that NAB is now feeling the pain of legislation is lobbied for to kill online streaming (and which RIAA was happy to endorse as well) to keep listeners tuned in over the air.

RIAA is now seeing their members, performers, are better served by a different compensation model. One that targets the multiple platforms where music is being consumed, such as iPods, laptops, mp3 players and so on. I listen to all my music on my laptop, hooked up to speakers that I downloaded from iTunes. I maybe buy 3 CD's in a year; I bought 10 albums on iTunes.

Time for NAB to upgrade its business model. Time for them to get some technological savvy. Time for them to play some music people might actually want to listen to.