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Why does it take a comedian to position video and print news media?

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Jon Stewart is a gifted comedian but I would hope that he would not think me unkind when I say that he has transcended comedy and has become a gifted editorialist and essayist. And he does in two places, the first being what I call his 'expected' venue - on-screen in a TV environment, and the second in what I call the 'wolf in sheep's clothing' venue in which various hosts presume that he will bring comedy when in fact he can deliver a withering analysis that lays the matter bare.

Stewart recently did it again at the "Inside the Covers" panel series held by the Magazine Publishers Association.

In debating Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter on the issue of how advertisers and media buyers divide their revenues between what I call 'screens' (TV, internet, image device - anything other than print media) and print, Stewart said:

"The way news is driven today is not through print. I don't consider print media as relevant."

Carter countered that "television news consistently siphons what first appears in print" to which Stewart replied:

"I didn't say you weren't important; I said you're at the children's table."

Stewart drove home the 'immediacy of television' citing his stealth interview that dismembered Tucker Carlson on CNN's Crossfire:

"I wouldn't have walked into a newspaper or magazine (office) and gotten angry, because they're not the ones driving the discourse."

Stewart was equally piercing in his analysis of the web:

"(The internet) is just a delivery system. You can get really, really great insight, and really disturbing Asian porn."

It is startling to see the magnitude of "media ecosystem in which US nationals are immersed," an environment that Paul Saffo calls a "Cambrian explosion" of TV, radio, Web, PDAs, MP3 players, cellphones, video games, embedded devices in addition to print sources. The recent Middletown Media Studies by the Center for Media Design detail our enormous personal and professional media consumption, noting that "of the time spent using media, nearly one-third was spent consuming two or more forms at once, such as watching TV and surfing the Internet, or listening to music while playing a video game":

About 30 percent of their waking hours were found to be spent using media exclusively, while another 39 percent involved using media while also doing another activity, such as watching TV while preparing food or listening to the radio while at work. Altogether, more than two-thirds of people's waking moments involved some kind of media usage.

See The Media Day, Concurrent Media Exposure, and their collection process, the Observational Method. The presence of TV was impressive: TV and the Web, TV and email, TV and phone, TV and software, etc. TV survived the Web, as cinema survived TV, but the two forms are beginning to merge as streaming video from TV and other sources makes its way onto the internet. Print just takes a smaller slice, despite efforts by the newsprint media to show that their reach extends beyond 'copies sold.'

Returning to Stewart and his commentary, I am saddened as I look to news from whatever source to be genuinely informative rather than masquerading entertainment or willful misinformation. TV is driving the discourse as it starves the viewer for content and context. Stewart's Daily Show first passed through this weblog in October, 2004:

Stewart earned my undying respect when he passed from comedy and parody to scathing commentary during his Trojan Horse interview on CNN Crossfire (transcript here). I share with my younger generation Stewart's comment that, "We feel a frustration with the way politics are handled and the way politics are handled within the media."... 

In an environment where I now find even the interviews of Tim Russert to fail to press the point, where Fox is beyond the pale, where CNN has lost its way, where broadcast anchors admit to self-censorship in an effort to avoid commercial attack, where the only TV news that I seek out is PBS (Lehrer, Moyers, Frontline et al), I will continue to rely on primary source materials -- the stuff from which the high street press is crafted, and a broad spectrum of offshore sources to form my opinions.

And the Daily Show.

It was in that same note that I lamented my forced return to TV news:

The descent of mainstream news (cable and broadcast) has been so great that after years of largely ignoring it, I have had to return to it in order to understand our clients' state of misinformation, i.e., the degree of misinformation dictates the amount of added detail that we will have to include in our analyses in order to refute the bad before we can present the good.

Press on, Mr. Stewart, as too many others are still content with TV.

Stewart Skewers Consumer Magazine Editors, Industry at MPA Panel
By DYLAN STABLEFORD
Folio
September 29, 2005

We swim in an ocean of media
By Gregory M. Lamb
Christian Science Monitor
from the September 28, 2005 edition

NAA's New 'NADbase' Exposes True Reach of Newspapers
By Jennifer Saba
Editor & Publisher
Published: October 02, 2005 10:30 PM ET

Gordon Housworth



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