Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Education of the American Media Consumer

Growing up in the New York metro area, I regularly heard commercials for Syms clothing stores where Marcy Syms would claim "An Educated Consumer is Our Best Customer." The company continues to live by the same slogan.

But that's not so true in media. Everyone thinks they're an educated consumer, but in fact they're not. People seem to want more insight into how TV is made, how else can you explain the constant tours that go on through TV newsrooms? People line up to tour NBC, CNN, CBS and even WHDH here in Boston (I remember watching the tour groups come through), but would anyone line up to go through an H&R Block office? How about a tour through my own PR firm?

Not likely.

That's what makes this supposed controversy about the "X" over the Vice President's face during a speech so amusing. A number of conspiracy buffs are out there saying how this is CNN's way of disparaging the current administration.

No, it's a technical glitch. It happens all the time. I see "slates" come up on channel 7 on a regular basis, and I often see the wrong video flash up on the screen even during national news broadcasts. Some glitches are small and you only see if them if you've worked in the industry. Other's are obvious. To CNN's credit, they did try to educate viewers as to what happened and why.

Back in the days of a slower news cycle when you had all day to polish and shine your show to a high gloss, all with highly skilled workers, glitches were more rare. But with a faster news cycle and more people, some of whom are relatively new, mistakes happen. Just this morning I heard a story on WBUR in which a scratch track on one of the pre-produced stories obviously got on the air. Not a conspiracy, just someone not paying close enough attention.

If you're a truly educated consumer then you should understand when you see a mistake and when there's a concerted effort to distort the news.

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