Friday, December 10, 2010

List addict

Want in-depth stories about the growing wealth gap in our country and how that portends very bad things for our future?

Want to know the details behind Iran’s nuclear aspirations?

Interested in what London’s student riots say about the future of education inequality?

Well, you’ll get none of it here.

Why? Because we have lists, lists and lists.

For some reason news sites, magazines and the TV news readers are obsessed with lists of all kinds. And they should be because we gobble them up.

I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but I make note of it because this morning I noticed myself getting caught up in it (like I do just about every morning).

I go to cnn.com (my first click, usually) and what do I choose? Let’s see if you can guess.

  1. A story about Chinese dissident and Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo.
  2. A story about student protests in London.
  3. A list of the Top 10 places to spend Christmas.

I chose C, thank you very much.

The UK has nearly tripled the cost of tuition for university in a story that speaks volumes about the world economy and volumes more about the rights to education and the gap between the haves (the upper crust who can still afford the cost) and the have nots (working-class people for whom a college education is the great equalizer, allowing them to compete the haves and succeed on their talents). This is an important story for many many reasons.

Likewise, the story about Liu Xiaobo is important because it says a lot about modern China and its place in the world. As the locus of economic and industrial activity moves east, with it comes the bright glare of the world stage. This could probably be the most interesting and important thing I read all day.

Or not.

Guilty as charged. See a list story … must … click … on … list … story.

Just last week I clicked through 100, count ’em, 100 top places to live. Why? Well, because I wanted to see if any N.M. towns made the list and also because my wife and I could be open to a move in the not-too-distant future and I wanted to see what's out there – so I tell myself.

Lists are easy – easy to compile, easy and fun to read – and they don’t require us to grapple with any of the hard questions. They are breezy. In the end, they are what we want from our news.

Infotainment.

Who cares about the weighty issues? Who even cares about the criteria that goes in to populating these lists?

I always say we should demand more from the media, but this morning they gave me choices and I chose list porn.

I guess my point is to not beat ourselves up for the choices we make, but to recognize there are other choices – more substantive ones. And like mom who made us eat our vegetables because it ultimately was good for us, maybe we should make an effort at least once a day to delve into an important story and learn the context of it.

And then get back to the list of top albums of 2010.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sanctimony alert and Rule #52 about the media

I began my career in a newsroom and one little secret you all must know is that newsrooms are hot-beds of gallows humor, inappropriate jokes and snark.

As someone who worked in a newsroom, I am as guilty as anyone else. I took part and I laughed at tragedy or when it was not appropriate. It’s just something that happens.

This week, reporter Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic needled Arizona Cardinals quarterback Derek Anderson for a short clip of video of Anderson chuckling on the sidelines during a blow-out loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The endless line of questioning was along the lines of: What’s so funny? What were you talking about? Why are you laughing during a blowout? What’s so funny about that?

You can watch the exchange here.

Ugh – what a douche-canoe. Seriously.

This is a guy who probably yucks it up all the time at inappropriate moments in his own newsroom. Now he’s firmly planted on his high horse – getting to the truth, man, taking down the big, bad jock.

All right, already, we get it – you’re a crusader.

Milton Kent at the San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting take on this story.

The worst part of this whole episode is that the sniveling PR people with the Cardinals or the NFL had Anderson go back out a few days later and apologize.

Let me play Anderson for a second – this is what his “apology” should have been:

Anderson: “Yeah, I had a chuckle on the sidelines, so what. There’s nothing to apologize for, so go screw.”

That’s what I’d like to hear. Not the choreographed: “Well, I let my emotions get the better of me and” yadda yadda yadda.

Rule Number 52: Don’t let reporters let you think they are better people than you. They are just people. They do stupid things (like all of us), they have vices (like all of us), and they have no more moral superiority than any one of us.

They already have a measure of power with their cameras and their pens, don’t give them moral power that they are no more entitled to than you are.