Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sinclair ... so what?

It's nice to see Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. modify its decision to air the anti-Kerry movie "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal." (LA Times via MediaInfoCenter).

But maybe I'm becoming jaded in my old age, because my initial reaction was "who cares"?

We crow, post-CBS memo scandal, about how under new media there's all this self-correction (see the Command Post piece referenced in next post). And with all the digital and real ink spilled about this in recent days, if self-correction were ever going to work, it should now. (And I suppose it has, to some, extent, with Sinclair modifying its plans.)

And yet we wring our hands as though Sinclair will be broadasting to a bunch of dolts who will watch the documentary and march lockstep into the voting booth to cast ballots against Kerry. We can't have it both ways. It seems to me that if we're going to argue for what is essentially a libertarian media philosophy when it comes to the net, at some point that's going to have to be applied across the spectrum. Do I think what Sinclair plans to do is unseemly? Yep. Do I think it was sleazy to fire its Washington bureau chief for speaking out against company policy? Yep. (Though try that at any large media company these days and see how long you last.)

But if, as some of bloggers argue in the post-Rather glow, there has become sufficient throw weight in the online community to set straight the record and do it quickly, then what does it matter? Sinclair broadcasts; the rest of us set it straight.

Thus we uncover the flaw in the self-correcting argument. No amount of correction can unring the bell entirely. The argument presupposes there is perfect overlay between the audience reached by the original communication and the subsequent torrent of corrective output, what Alan Nelson of Command Posts calls "The law of the many." But there isn't that perfect overlay, and so it remains as important -- and with the speed and reach of the Internet, perhaps more important -- to invest the resources needed to get it right the first time.

In this I must partially demur from Nelson's observation to the AP Managing Editors that:
I think in the newsroom of the future, the role of the editor will change ... from someone who works primarily as a gatekeeper of facts with an interest in quality to someone who "serves" the reader based on an understanding of what readers will consider relevant ...
I think he's right in that the editor's role will evolve to more of a guide. But it was the lack of appropriate gatekeepers focused on quality in both the CBS and Sinclair dust-ups that led to the problems. Gatekeeper as obstructionist is bad; gatekeeper as someone causing us to slow down a second and think is good.


At 10/20/04, 6:58 PM, Blogger Tom said...

Doug - one thing to note - Sinclair hasn't modified any plans. They never planned on showing the film in its entirety, and were actually just coming out and clarifying that it would be running as part of something else, in sections - the media got this wrong and blew it out of proportion (not that I agree personally with the running of it) and have continued to get it wrong now that Sinclair has set the record straight. But people are jumping on this like some kind of victory - the company didn't bow down to pressure, even though advertisers are bailing.

At 10/21/04, 11:55 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks, Tom. Even more reason not to be impressed with all the uproar, eh?


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