Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"What Makes A Great Story?"

A terrific read, Liberal MP Glen Pearson offers some thought provoking insights into the media culture that dominates Ottawa. I'm reminded of a CBCNN self promotion commercial, wherein "what makes a great story?" gives a list of essential key ingredients. One thing is clear, it isn't so much a search for truth, but a search for a compelling story that motivates. Add in a dash of learned cynicism and the dynamic Pearson speaks to becomes apparent.

Canada is blessed with so many great journalists, reporters, meaning any critique isn't some sweeping condemnation. That said, as Susan Delacourt writes this morning on twitter, if you "dish it out, you should be able to take it", and that's a very healthy, reinvigorating perspective. To often the questioners get defensive the moment the spotlight turns and a critical eye is cast. I chalk that reaction to simple human nature, everyone loves to be the criticizer(self included), but nobody likes to be criticized. However, it is imperative that media constantly re-examine, otherwise the medium becomes stale, predictable and fails to live up to it's supposed part of the bargain in our democracy.

It's the pursuit of the story, as Pearson details, and if it lacks juicy bits it fails to be relevant. In addition, if a story has that required edge, it is overblown, exaggerated and given far more attention that it deserves. What is really going on, and what is reported, becomes warped beyond belief, to the point where it no longer speaks to the reality at hand. I would submit, this circumstance is dangerous, because Canadians have no other true window into our political system.

I've mentioned term limits for journalists before, a point Pearson raises. I mean that in jest in one sense, because they are many seasoned journalists in Ottawa that are treasures, their wisdom and experience irreplaceable. However, let's call it the cynic quotient, which can afflict any age group, and when it it reached, the analysis, the emphasis, fails to have any relevance or inherent worth. To be more specific, the immediate "scoff" take, on every issue imaginable, wherein it's all game play, it's all posturing, that perspective is maddening and indicative of someone who's become to jaded to matter.

Canadians are tuning it out, journalists know this well, ratings, circulation don't lie. With this harsh reality in mind, maybe it's time for rethink on "what makes a great story?", because from here, it looks like the audience doesn't necessarily agree.


Shiner said...

Thanks for posting that, a great read to be sure, especially compared to Hebert's bizarre column in the Star today. Sheesh!

JimBobby said...

"What Makes A Great Story?"

Providing a soapbox for Harper mentor and former chief of staff Tom Flanagan to make a public call for extra-judicial execution.

I hear Don Martin is going to be hosting CTV's Power Play. I'm going to give CTV a shot after watching CBC P&P last night. Evan Solomon's response to Flanagan's call for murder was tepid. Sensationalism, no matter how tasteless (and illegal, even) trumps journalism and analysis.

Steve V said...

I really like Don Martin, because he's quite sharp, but he also has a "commoner" sensibility. It's that combination that makes his insights informative, because they translate to the real world application.

WesternGrit said...

This, exactly: "the immediate "scoff" take, on every issue imaginable, wherein it's all game play, it's all posturing"

I think a lot of us are sick and tired of the jaded view many so-called "journalists" take to any issue. Rather than addressing the issue itself, and researching the background and FACTS, they seem more concerned with the gamesmanship, or creating sides then giving all "sides" equal air time - even if one side is so grievously wrong (as in the case of the climate change debate where, even though science completely backs the idea, "journalists" decide to give some unknown twit airplay for his Big Oil supporting tripe).

Journalists want to create a "fight" any time they can, so they force sides on an issue. It sells more papers. But on a more personal side, it helps them get noticed in a world where everyone with a blog, a mobile phone cam, or a vid-cam can be a journalist these days.

Forget real "sources", "research" (what's that???), etc. It's all about getting the big story in on time...


JimmE said...

The best TV Political show is The Agenda. Pakin often has many guests who have nuanced opinions on an issue. TVO's programme should be a model for other organizations, but I fear too many would it boring - few sparks.

Frankly Canadian said...

Great post Steve! I hope your right when you say that the Canadian audience is tuning out because one thing I learned a few weeks ago was that Fox news had surpassed CNN for the most watched news station. What amazed me is that Fox news has only a slight fraction of journalist that CNN has, and while CNN had to pay all those salaries and pay out all the high cost of travel, lodging and other expenses for their stories, Fox news could save all that money and use it towards self promotion and advertising to boost their audiences. I find this an extremely scary situation, this whole “what makes a story “ thing and how well it sells is more important then the real news with real educational value. I think education is the key the more well informed the audience is, the less likely they are to buy into the whole “sell the sizzle not the steak” aspect of journalism. Again great post Steve and I hope Canadians do take an interest in how our country operates and the real important issues that matter in our society.

Kirk said...

I easily drift to a gloomy view of things but as a Liberal the by election results actually lifted my spirits.

If Vaughan had been won by Anthony Fantino instead of Julian I would have been very depressed. But the loss to the ideal candidate for that riding by a narrow margin isn't the end of the Liberal Party that some pundits and all Conservatives are claiming. Far from it.

When Chantel Hebert claims in a column that the narrow Conservative win in Vaughan shows a complete switch to the Conservatives away from the Liberals with national implications but completely disregards Fantino's star status and that he was the perfect candidate for the Conservatives to run in that riding you wonder if Glen Phearson is right and some journalist do stay too long in Ottawa.

That the win for the Liberals in Winnipeg gets only the occasional mention and no one seems to think this NDP loss means anything at all, you know the media is following a narrowly defined script. It's the script they were preparing before the vote, the script that said Fantino would walk away with Vaughan and that the NDP would keep Winnipeg North.

(Lastly, in the Star comments Hebert is being praised by their regular right wing posters as being a completely reliable observer of the political scene. Of course these same commentators slam her as a Liberal hack whenever see negatively critiques the Conservatives. Too funny.)

Jerry Prager said...

Our media does nothing but massage corporatist messages, we HAD great journalists in this country, now it's all spin.
And sorry Steve, but right wing Liberalism so far guarantees that the only Great Big Tent is the corporatist one envisioned over 70 years ago by this man.
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." Benito Mussolini

Wikileaks are truths that would have been told long ago if we had real journalism in the world, the news is nothing but infotainment and corporatist spin, all this party squabbling is just facade covering a common purpose, all Iggy has to offer is a kinder gentler fascism because he has neither the courage or the inclination to challenge the status quo.

The Liberal Party Inc and the Conservative Party Inc, merged with International Corporatism Inc.
Political parties along time ago to destroy democracy in Canada, when they allowed a concentration of media ownership condemned by Keith Davey back in 1970.
Which isn't to say that there aren't a handful of democrats in both parties, but they have no power.
Iggy's coronation proved that.
I wish it wasn't true, but only things like wikileaks can wake up the public before it's utterly too late, ie after climate change hits the fan and billions of people are displaced and die because corporatists spent zillions fighting the truth through their media because they intend on being the only ones standing when the worst is over.