Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wasserman's elitism

Ed Wasserman, the Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington & Lee, dishes out a healthy dose of elitism in his latest broadside against the FCC and the nation's sometimes incoherent information and communication policy (what, we have a policy?).

Wasserman's right in his conclusion that the FCC is largely toothless when it comes to the evolving media landscape, But instead of a thoughtful discussion of useful alternatives, he offers this dollop:

[W]e're on the cusp of a new era when localism will be all that's left for local TV stations anyway. That's because the national networks are eager to get around those local stations altogether and channel their shows directly to audiences via cable, Internet, mobile phones, molar implants -- telepathy, soon enough -- anything that will save them having to share ad revenues.

Plus, local stations are about to get even more channels to fill once they make the long-awaited move to the digital spectrum next year. What will they fill it with? Cheap, hyper-local programming, tailored to intensely local advertisers and interests, whether neighborhood sound-offs, Pop Warner football or peewee soccer. Broadcasting is about to launch into a craven new world of localism, with programs of unimagined triviality.

Well, yes, Ed. It's precisely that kind of elitism that got much of the mainstream media into this mess in the first place. They became estranged from their audiences for which such things often are not trivial (trust me on this; I've coached youth baseball). Why do you think things like YouTube and Vimeo and Flickr and Photobucket and any number of social networking sites are so popular? Oh, yes, those millions really should be watching TV and reading their local newspaper.

But they aren't! And you aren't getting them back, at least not with those kinds of attitudes.

These sorts of things are not trivial, but they can be trivialized. Wasserman and others continue to show how effortless it is to do so.

(However, on one level I do agree with him -- given broadcasting's track record, I expect to see substantial amounts of schlock. It need not be that way, however, as some online sites and show.)

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