October 15, 2003

Out Foxed

Jay Rosen of PressThink, in response to a comment by the ever inquisitive Tom Mangan the maze of media that's overwhelmed the "non-partisan press," renames the mess a media "amusement park" and finds there's a ride for just about everyone. He writes:

"Through one tunnel, marked Opinion! in fat letters, thousands of people stream, chattering in anticipation of what they will find. Another tunnel just says Talk, and it has equal traffic. Through another, called Fair and Balanced, an even bigger crowd shuffles, shouting "fair and balanced," their happy taunt. We Report, You Decide takes the overflow. Liberal Media with a big thumb pointing downward is also a popular way in. The crowds there seem the edgiest."

The oldest, most grand ride of all, says Rosen, is Fox News, whose ascension has been the "most significant recent event in the political economy of national news." He writes:

"Before Fox entered the game, there was an under-served market for news that departed from the consensus model. That model is still in place, with some variation, across PBS, CBS, the three NBC News properties, ABC, and CNN, as well as NPR in radio. The consensus in broadcast grew out of a similar one in newspapers and the newsweeklies. Mangan calls it nonpartisan reporting. I would call it neutral professionalism, with an asterisk* for everything about it that is not so neutral. Fox and others just call it the liberal media."

As I was reading the rest of Rosen (you should, too), I was reminded of James Fellow's profile of Rupert Murdoch in the Atlantic and then, lo, Rosen links to the same article, quoting Fallows that "sooner or later Murdoch's outlets, especially Fox News, will be more straightforward about their political identity-and they are likely to bring the rest of the press with them."

Read the Murdoch profile. Fallows portrays him as an historical figure, like Luce or Turner, the tipping point of media direction for his time. Here's a snip:

"Rupert Murdoch is this era's influential figure. His holdings have grown surprisingly fast, over a surprisingly long period of time. The cartoon explanation of his success is that he is ruthless or power-mad or even today's Hitler, as his former friend and current antagonist Ted Turner has called him. The real explanation is that he has combined several crucial ingredients-an instinct for mass taste, an appreciation of technology, a concept of strategic business structure, and a knack for exploiting political power-in a new and uniquely effective way. His is not the largest media company, but it is now the model to beat-or to imitate." (Emphasis added)

I'm not sure what to think. Like Rosen says at one point: "I don't have an opinion, I have a maze of them." I like the diversity of voices, the rambunctious clash of opinion (on TV and, increasingly, in print, not to mention the Web), the liveliness of it all. Newspapers have had none of those things for decades, much to their ill effect. Bland doesn't sell. It didn't 50 years ago and it certainly doesn't now.

I also like "Good, Solid, Nonpartisan, Daily Journalism," as Rosen names one of the attractions in the media amusement park, an analogy that appeals to me because I always thought of daily newspapering as a ride, an adventure. Our job, as the ticket-sellers for that ride, is to make it exciting enough to draw a crowd of thrill-seekers.

(Thanks to Jeff Jarvis for the pointer to Rosen).

UPDATE: Rupert Murdoch, 72, says he will be "carried out" before he retires. [ Read it ] (Thanks to I Want Media for the pointer).

 Jay Rosen Notes on the Creature Called Fox
 The Atlantic The Age of Murdoch

Posted by Tim Porter at October 15, 2003 07:45 AM

Tim: Thanks for these reflections. I agree, of course, that newspapers face the challenge of how to make public life exciting, without allowing excitement to overwhelm other principles of editing and become an end in itself. Part of Fox's appeal is even simpler than that, though: it's unpredictable what might happen. This is something O'Reilly has-- you just don't know what might happen on his show. It's dangerous, kinda. By the way, Tim, you list PressThink in your honor roll, which is wonderful, but you have me as "Tom," not Jay. Cheers.

Posted by: Jay Rosen on October 15, 2003 02:50 PM
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