Hearne: Lefsetz Laments Decline of ‘News’ Media

images-1Ever wonder why almost everything that generally passes for news disappears every time there’s a missing or downed Malaysian airliner, Ebola outbreak or Israeli insurrection?

It’s not quite that simple, but it sure does seem that way at times, given television news penchant for beating dead news horses.

Local news? That’s another matter, because we’ve got Jack out there scouring the earth for elephant weddings, me keeping a close eye on those illegal parking spots coveted by middle age crazy bikers on the Plaza and Paul Wilson lording over all things politically incorrect.

Oh yeah, and grouchy entertainment sage Bob Lefsetz charting the decline of Western Civilization.

Take the following:

“Give the movie studios credit. Despite everybody over the age of 12 – maybe 25 – clamoring for comedies and romances, stuff they can sink their teeth into, the companies refuse to do this. They continue to make the high concept, comic book dreck that those same people bitch about.

But this is smart. Because the truth is this same (older) audience barely goes to the theatre. They don’t want to overpay to chomp candy with people talking and texting. They’d rather stay at home and watch Netflix for a pittance, testifying to how television is the new future.

But the studios realize their game has changed. That it’s best to invest a ton in flicks that will play around the world, since the DVD business cratered. And they’re gonna play this game out until the end, not listening to the naysayers whatsoever.

Kind of like the record labels.

Now that anybody can cut a track and sell it, promoting themselves ad infinitum by spamming everyone in their address book, the labels have circled the wagons and released even less product, most of it abhorred by everybody over 12 or 25.  Because the labels realize that people over 25 already have their favorites, don’t see music as primary and feel better about themselves if they champion something obscure that no one else can get into… and there’s no money in that.

blogging-guest-bloggers-welcome-1But now this run for the bottom line is infecting the news.

The last supposed bastion of fact. That’s right, movies and music are entertainment, at least they have been ever since “Star Wars” and “Thriller,” when they learned there’s a lot more money in shaving off the rough edges and offending nobody as opposed to being edgy and meaningful.

But the news is inherently edgy and meaningful.

However the old farts in control of the game are so baffled by the Internet that they’re embracing new concepts that make absolutely no sense. Like allowing anybody to publish.

“More Online Publishers Let Readers Fill The Space”

Now that’s just what I want. Someone who can’t write, who’s got no authority, inserting themselves into the few bastions of fact left, so I’m confused and don’t know what is true.

And the truth is the studio movies and the major label records are better than the self-published dreck.

1367793611_in-the-future-everybody-will-be-world-famous-for-fifteen-minutes-andy-warhol-135386That’s America though, nobody wants to have their chance removed.

They want to believe if they make it, people will come, as if the whole country is a field of dreams just waiting for their effort. Statistics tell us upward mobility in the U.S. is worse than in Europe, but no one will accept that, because god darn it, they’re the exceptions, they’re the rule-breakers. If they just believe in themselves and work 24/7, they’ll succeed, just like the people they read about.

But the people they read about went to elite universities. Or practiced their instrument every day since five years of age. Or know how to code. Whereas the wannabe has social networking skills and doesn’t even know what he does not know, but (still) believes he deserves our attention.

But we only want the best and the brightest, the absolute best. This is a fact. Movie and music companies are aware of this, even if those same over 25 year olds are not.

Yup, it turns out viewers want good production values, they want to see the money on the screen. Sure, a great story triumphs, but who are these unheralded writers? Even Amazon, which is rolling in dough, can’t compete in TV, because HBO, Showtime and now even Netflix were there first.

The-Strain-series-launch-billboardTurns out there’s a limited pool of great feature and television writers.

And a limited pool of musicians. The only problem the major labels have is they cannot get their hands on all the money. Jay Z and Beyonce are rich! The goal of the major is to commission all this revenue. Which is why Universal invested in Beats and all the companies got a piece of Spotify. Because they’re greedy and using their leverage to make money. What, you want them to leave it on the table and give it to the artists, who will still bitch that they just can’t get enough?

And that’s the truth. Ever notice it’s the middling and never made it artist who bitches loudest about new paradigm “injustices”? And indie labels, who just don’t have the scale of the majors? They want to level the playing field, when the truth is it’s never been level.

And where are we gonna read about all this? On BuzzFeed? The HuffPo? Where clicking for dollars is paramount over truth?

They’re just money plays.

fox-lies-constantlyAt least give Rupert Murdoch credit. He’s not interested in money, he’s interested in influence, he’s playing a long game. He’s decimated the “Wall Street Journal,” turned it into a second-rate combination of your local rag and “Redbook.

And Fox News believes truth is anathema, unless it squares with their vision.

But CNN – without a wealthy backer – just follows the scandals. Now it’s Ebola all the time, as if people living in Montana or Missouri are susceptible.

However because news outlets are freaked out about the switch to digital, they’re casting aside the one thing that made them valuable, reporting and truth.

Only the New York Times has boots on the ground in far-flung places, but now even the Grey Lady has sponsored content and is contemplating utilizing citizen journalists.

We’ve already got that! All over the worldwide web!

Know-nothings with a megaphone shouting at each other! If you want to give them a bigger platform, you don’t understand the Internet. You think that Chris Anderson was right in “The Long Tail” and that everybody deserves a voice and we live in one great kumbaya society.

The truth is as we become inundated with information and we want less.

Maybe more than before, then again, today we don’t even want the album, just the hit. We want trusted sources and we’ll pay them, give them all our money. This is the transition we saw in the music business that the news missed. After the revolution the same powers rule, and they get even richer on fewer products.

john_lennon_ImagineThere are fewer movies. Fewer major label releases. Because the public can’t handle more.

The fiction is we want more, but we don’t. Can you even name your Facebook friends? Can you listen to two records at once? Can you read the news all day long? No, you want trusted filters that point you to the best.

The fact the best movies and music are empty, soul-killing enterprises does not mean they’re still not the highest quality. Turns out people can see comedies and romance on the small screen, which is getting larger every day, where content is delivered on demand. And in music, the great unwashed don’t seem to realize being able to sing, write and play are virtues. Sure, a lot of the hitmakers cannot do all three, but they hire someone who can. Who are you using? Your next door neighbor? No wonder no one is listening. And once upon a time music was all about truth, but John Lennon‘s been gone for decades and ever since MTV it’s been about selling out. But you can’t have truth if you’re beholden to corporations.

Now the last bastion of truth has got sponsored content and is turning the asylum over to lunatics.

He who triumphs in the future knows it’s a long game. That the internet dust has not settled. And only excellence will survive. And excellence can take many forms, Facebook triumphed over MySpace because it just worked. If you want to change the face of music you must have all the skills the major label releases encompass, and then you can state your truth.

But the truth is very few people have these skills, never mind the compunction.

Which brings us to today. Where the poor stay poor and the rich get richer.

Because the rich are smart. They understand the game. And the poor don’t, because they’re uneducated or don’t want knowledge to rain on their parade.

So news organizations…

Your audience will respond to quality journalism. That which is reported well by experienced people with passion. Maybe you need to groom new writers, but opening the barn to everybody is a route to disaster. Just look at “Forbes” or the Daily Beast, two enterprises that have become nearly worthless because of unvetted content contributed by nobodies.

0187117f89b706d081867af0541e853aThat is not the future. The future is quality.

Want to triumph in the future? Pay your dues, and know that we haven’t got time for mediocrity, and you will win if you stay in the game, although it might not happen until you’re 40.

And let the news companies look at the music industry. Don’t blink. The major labels still rule 15 years after Napster. Improve your essence, don’t let your investment be overrun by those with audiences who will be forgotten tomorrow. That’s like putting the number one YouTube artist on CBS. Hasn’t happened yet, and probably never will. Unless CBS plucks talent and grooms it.

Like CBS chief Les Moonves is gonna give YouTube comic Jenna Marbles an hour on Thursday night.”

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9 Responses to Hearne: Lefsetz Laments Decline of ‘News’ Media

  1. Guy Who Says What Others Think says:

    a wise man once said “…glittering prizes and endless compremises, shatter the illusion of integrity, yeah…”

  2. Bob Loblaw says:

    “for the words of the profits are written on the studio halls, concert halls. And echoes with the sound of salesmen! Of salesmen! Of SALES men!”

  3. Paracelsus says:

    Reporting and truth are sadly irrelevant when the internet and social media have segmented the news market so perfectly. News is a product like shampoo, and as liable to adjustment by market forces. You can buy AXE if you think that looks like you, or you can buy Dial. If FOX calls the tune you like, and provides you with reassuring confirmation of your biases, why exactly are facts important?

  4. Stomper says:

    Don’t know squat about movies or music but I agree with your thoughts on news organizations. Tough to pay your dues and aim for success in the future when it seems like everything today is instant gratification but your point about quality journalism written by experienced people with passion connecting with the audience is spot on. Just hope they can survive in jungle long enough to get there.

    If you want to really learn about any issue in the news today, you better be prepared to work for it. Listen to and read all sides. Paracelsus made a good point, if you only draw from one or two sources, why bother.

    • Orphan of the Road says:

      The Christian Science Monitor is one of the last credible news outlets. Been reading it since journalism school.

      Around the 90s, the ranks of those teaching journalism began to be dominated by people who had no real world experience. They had never worked for a news outlet, wrote a book, published a magazine article.

      Barry Nemcoff was my mentor in college. He started out at The Philadelphia Inquirer and was dragged kicking and screaming to WPVI-TV by Walter Annenberg. He and the others tagged felt there was no legitimacy to tv or radio news (radio has always been rip-and-read).

      He was interim dean of the School of Communication at Temple. After working with Edward R. Murrow, being editor for the CBS Evening News, first producer of Good Morning America and ending his career as managing editor of The Nightly Business Report.

      He urged students to major in political science, history, English, anything but journalism/communications. Told us you could learn everything about the news business in the first six-months on the job.

      Hearne can probably give some insight on that point.

      And Mr. Nemcoff found time in all of that to work for the State Department and write speeches for Jimmy Carter’s presidential run.

      Stomper, you will like this video.


      • Stomper says:

        Thanks for sharing, Orphan. You are one of the lucky few to have such a committed mentor in your more formative years.

  5. harley says:

    stomper….you must have grown up jewish…you speak and write so well…
    shalom brother.
    and may the state of Israel stand forever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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