Dateline Sucks

January 12, 2008

Always interesting Harold Henderson has summed up an article in Technology Review on television news quite well:

TV “news” isn’t liberal or conservative, it’s stupid.

Written by former Dateline NBC producer John Hockenberry, it covers twelve years of missed chances as producers continually look for an “emotional core” where there isn’t one. Not Al Qaeda’s complexities; firefighters. Not politics; puppies.

His main point is that network news is doomed, thanks to the self-organizing communities made possible by the Internet. No kidding. He chronicles the inside reasons throughout the article, and make me feel glad not to work in network news. Let it die.

The vacuity of the network form, especially of Dateline, comes into fine relief near the end. Hockenberry laments one of his pet projects that got cut. He thought it innovative. In it, a porn spammer gets confronted on-camera by a miffed housewife, like a watered-down To Catch a Predator. When he mentions that dreck in the next sentence, I wonder if he can’t see the connection.

More interesting are the suggestions, not developed, that 1) ads are innovative because they respect the audience; and 2) something inherent in film/TV leads us to look for the emotional core. You can’t control the Kuleshov effect, in other words. So filmed war coverage has to be Us vs. Them. Even worse, it always becomes mythic. Which leads to the question: how different would my country and its politics look if we’d all just been reading about 9/11? Or better yet, if all the voters had seen nothing but tables of raw data the entire time?

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