May
2010

The Admission Essay

Brett Whitmarsh’s Quinnipiac Statement Aug. 2009:

The clock is ticking at WCSH 6, the NBC television station in Portland, Maine, where I work. As I sit at my desk in the newsroom, the big digital clock reads 6:50; ten minutes before the show I produce goes on the air live across the state. As the seconds tick away, I think of the suspenseful beeping of the famous clock on the TV show, “24”. This newsmagazine show is called “207”. If you are not from Maine, the name might seem odd to you, but Maine has only one area code, 207.

The computer screen in front of me displays my “I-news” scripts, and I decide to print them. At this point in the evening, I am either going to feel very confident or very nervous about the show that is about to be broadcast. “207” has been on the air nearly six years, and I have been here from the start. I was brought in a week before the dawn of “207” as the field producer for the show and also for a second weekly show, “Bill Greene’s Maine”.

Before Portland, I worked at a 24-hour news channel, Capital News 9, in Albany, New York as a news photographer and live truck operator for a year and a half. After being in Albany for only a few weeks, the station sent me to New York City to work for their more famous sister station, NY1, for a few weeks. Those weeks set the tone for the time I spent in New York and also taught me some valuable lessons. My first live shot landed me in the center of Times Square. Sadly that shot was cut short by a technical glitch within the truck, which caught me off guard. I had been adequately trained how to run a live shot, but not how to fix the truck when it didn’t work. At that moment I learned two things: always have a back up plan and that the more I knew about everything, the better off I would be in life. Simply put, knowledge is power – the power to go anywhere and do anything and to get the job done right.

The clock back in Maine now reads 6:55. It is still ticking and I have not seen or heard from my director. A small moment of panic washes over me as I decide if I could direct the show if I needed to, and yes, I feel confident that I could. Relief arrives when I hear my director’s voice from behind me asking for his scripts. My next thought focuses in on my two anchors, more specifically, where are they? I decide it’s time to get into the control room and wait for them there. I have known them both for six years and they like to cut it close. Sometimes I think it gives them a little thrill to make me nervous.

I sit in the control room and stare at an even bigger digital clock, 6:58 and still no anchors. Could I anchor the show if I needed to, yes. My face would not be unfamiliar to viewers. Over the years I have been a reporter, writer, photographer, and editor. In fact, I edited all the video in tonight’s show. I might even go so far as to say that I know this particular show better than anyone.

At 6:59 the anchors are settling in, cracking a few jokes with each other. They have a brilliant chemistry together, not to mention they look good sitting next to one another. My final thoughts before the show cover a wide range of topics. Is the blog up? Did we activate the recipe on the cooking section of our website? Are all the links on the site working properly? Did I stream the right video for tonight’s show? Does everyone have what he or she needs and are they where they need to be? The answer to all of this is yes because I have been working throughout the day to ensure that all is going well, but I never stop worrying until 7:30 when the show ends.

Tonight’s show starts at 7 with a great story on a guy in Boothbay Harbor who makes lobster ice cream, then comedian Bob Marley has everyone in stitches as he makes funny faces. A cooking segment follows featuring a delicious stuffed salmon recipe. Finally, we bring it on home with a rockin’ band all the way from Scotland.

There is so much more I want to do with this show using new techniques and following new directions; however, there are things I want to do in communications beyond this show. When “207” fades to black for the last time, my goal is to make a transition to education and teach at the college level. I have had great opportunities and varied experiences in my career and education in this industry. I would like to share that knowledge and those experiences with others, to help shape journalists, broadcasters, and producers of tomorrow. The online master’s degree program at Quinnipiac will give me the tools I need to move forward with my career.

Quinnipiac offers the right program for me because it will allow me the flexibility to continue to produce the show I love from the state of Maine while earning my master’s degree. The design of the structure of the Interactive Communications Degree Program from Quinnipiac will give me the further education that I need to be a more effective professional in the communications field.

I hope to be looking at a different clock in my future, one in a classroom where I will be running through a mental checklist deciding how much more I can fit into my class schedule before letting the students go for the day.

This is my moment to move forward, the right time for me to acquire my master’s degree. Quinnipiac University and the Interactive Communications Masters Degree seems well tailored to my goals.

Oct
2009

“Back To The Future”

The Internet was born out of great intentions. The idea was to share information in a fast way to save time and money. What no one had the foresight to factor in was the human element.

The human element is unpredictable. Unlike computers, humans have ideas, emotions, and goals. There is great good in humans, but also a considerable amount of evil. History has taught us that with any new advancement in technology humans have always found a way to abuse it. So as we move into an amazing future of unpredictable new technology, how can we prepare ourselves to not make mistakes that can hurt society, and damage our world? The answer is in science fiction.

Poet George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot learn from the past, are condemned to repeat it.” So how can we learn from our past as we look to the future of technology? In a sense we already know the future. All we have to do is look to our past to see it. Our favorite TV shows, movies, and books are the keys. Our collective past has always found great entertainment in the realm of science fiction. Many of today’s astronauts chose their career paths after watching “Star Trek as kids.

Our history of science fiction is both our future and our past. As silly as it may sound, within our science fiction; we can learn our greatest lessons.

For example, we all know those little Bluetooth devices many people wear use for their cell phones? What if those devices could connect to your brain, and download information for your day? Sound impossible? Well here is an example of what I mean:

The clip is from television’s longest-running science fiction show, “Doctor Who.” Since the beginning of this show back in November of 1963, this show has asked its viewers to dream the impossible dream; humans being whisked away to travel through time and space with an alien known only as ‘The Doctor,’ in a rickety old police box called a TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). Here, take a quick look:

Now, you might stop and laugh, and your initial thought may be that I have lost you, but stay with me. Before I launch off into a lecture about how great both the old and new “Doctor Who” episodes are, consider a simple, more basic idea. Yes, travel in time and space, may be out of our reach, but what if we can take a small space and make it bigger on the inside? What about the dimensions? What if we could take a cramped little blue box, and make it gigantic on the inside?

As absurd as the idea could seem, what if the Fab Lab at M.I.T. could figure it out? If anyone can, I think the think tank at the Fab Lab could do it. Under their sales pitch of any idea is possible, why not make something bigger on the inside? Just imagine how this would solve so many of our worlds’ problems. Now obviously one could argue we have too much stuff as it is in this country, but just how amazing would it be to have an entire house, full of stuff, fit into a tiny little box? You may not want a little box like me, but the ideas could be endless.

To slightly flex my geek muscle for just a moment, The Doctor’s TARDIS has something called a “chameleon” circuit. In the show, this circuit is broken, but when it’s working right the TARDIS transforms to blend in with the area they land in. It takes into account the time around it and turns into something that makes sense for the landscape. Now how about that? How handy would that be too? Sick of how old- looking your car is? Well, activate the chameleon circuit and “pop” you have a new-looking car (but sadly with all the same old problems).

I dare say that even some of the things they dreamt up, on the show, in the 60’s and 70’s are even possible today. Take for example, The Sonic Screwdriver:

The Sonic Screwdriver has been with The Doctor since the early 70’s. While it has taken multiple shapes over the years, one thing has stayed the same: it’s a screwdriver with multiple functions. Nowadays you have to look high and low to find just a plain simple screwdriver. Most modern screwdrivers have multiple functions or the very least different heads. So there you have it: one incredibly simple way Doctor Who has predicted a piece of technology we have right now.

It goes way beyond that though; think of all the technology we use everyday. How many of those devices have multiple functions? A great majority of them; Cell phones, MP3 players, cameras, printers, copy machines, the list can go on and on.

Science fiction doesn’t just help with the development of our future, it also influences where we will go. So many of our great thinkers were influenced from the science fiction they loved as kids. Here is a great example called “How William Shatner Changed The World:”

Maybe it’s strange, but it’s definitely true. Some of the most brilliant minds that attend the TED conference every year were once little children sitting at home watching shows like “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek,” and dreaming of a world where the things they saw on TV could actually exist. Would we have nearly half of the technology we have today if it weren’t for Star Trek?

Think back to the opening of each episode of Star Trek; “Captain’s log, star date…” does that sound familiar? It should because it’s a podcast. If it were written down, then it would have been a blog.

Remember the phaser on Star Trek, so often set to “Stun?” Well, now we have stun guns. The police try to use them more often then real guns. If it weren’t for Star Trek we might never have lived through; “Don’t Tase me dude.”

Obviously not society’s most dignified moment, but certainly one many of us remember. Now the most obvious of all devices we use today is the cell phone, most of which have a push to talk feature. This resembles the communication device they would use on the show. Maybe that was also the first use of the speakerphone.

How about when the captain would say “plot a course” and the navigator would program in their destination. Well, today we have GPS devices for our cars. We can plot our own destinations for anywhere we want to go.

I could spend a career going through popular TV shows in modern history and showcasing where some of today’s technology may have gotten their inspiration. From “The Jetsons,” to “Quantum Leap,” we have been raised on dreaming up ideas for the future. All of our wants and desires have been established through our science fiction pop culture. I never would have wanted an iPhone if it weren’t for the device Al would use on Quantum Leap.

On the show the device was a remote to a super computer called “Ziggy.” Al would use it to download information to advise Sam on what happened in the timeline. He could call back to the base, compute calculations, and so many other functions. This was when the show was supposed to be based in 1998.

Again, I could go on endlessly about how science fiction has influenced the technology we currently have, but the bottom line is to learn from the mistakes laid out for us in our history of science fiction

I will conclude on this thought. In the movie “The Invention of Lying,”

The characters live in a bland world where there is no creativity. There are no far-fetched ideas, just what is practical. Ricky Gervais explains that in order to be creative, we must be able to allow our minds to wander off into a world where we can dream of a better life and leave reality behind. It’s that dreaming of better things that leads us to create science fiction. Then the inspiration of science fiction allows us to wonder if such things are possible, then it’s on to create such impossible things.

The potential of technology is truly endless. We will never know how far we can push the world unless we try. With each idea we put out there, someone else might just pick up on it and take the next step.

Oct
2009

Am I A Pirate?

I certainly don’t dress like a pirate, and I only talk like a pirate one day a year. So why do I feel like a criminal?

Well, what is Internet piracy? As defined by YourDictionary.com:

“Using the Internet to illegally copy and/or distribute software, which is an infringement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (or DMCA) in the United States.

This week a magazine writer, who I follow on Twitter, posted a link to a You Tube video. He called the link “One of mankind’s greatest ever achievements:

Here is the video:

As a professional TV producer, and someone who has been taught a lot about ethics, I found myself confused about how I felt towards the video.

On one hand I loved it for its creativity and thought it to be almost inspirational. The idea of all these people, who are mostly strangers, coming together to make this video is so amazing to me. On the other hand, it breaks the law. Those students especially(being TV students), know what they are doing. In the TV field, you are taught the rules, and the rules clearly state that without written consent, you don’t have the right to take this music and do what you like with it.

Here is the basic definition of what copyright infringement is as defined by Wikipedia:

“Copyright infringement (or copyright violation) is the unauthorized use of material that is covered by copyright law, in a manner that violates one of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.”

These students had no malice in mind as they set out to make this video. They simply wanted to create something fun and creative. They wanted to entertain and excite people. While they may have wanted to get noticed on the world stage, they certainly we’re not looking for any monetary profit from this. If any profit were sought it would be a good grade from their professor for such an innovative idea. So why should these students be punished or charged with any criminal act, or sued? They shouldn’t.

As someone who produces content, here is my take: I am all for the continued sharing of information on the Internet. After all, that’s why the Internet exists. Let me be clear though. Sharing “information” should remain free, not profiting from others work. Specifically, I’m talking about produced entertainment that is original content seeking to make a profit.

In the field of news, we produce for the user. The point of all that we are producing is to share information with the viewers. They should then be allowed to share that information with as many people as they like. I also feel that as a producer of information, I should be allowed to use whatever resources I can. Sadly, copyright law does not agree with that thought, even in the news world. For example, my company doesn’t pay for ASCAP or BMI rights. So if I don’t have the permission directly from a musical act to use their music, I can’t.

If I create an original video, and the elements of that video are all mine, and I choose to share that video with the world on the Internet, then that is my choice and I should be free to always have that right. That work should also be protected as mine. Yes, I want as many people to see it as possible, and no I don’t want to charge them. But if someone else wants to use it, they need to ask for it. It’s a simple rule we were taught in grade school: sharing.

I want to share with you. If you have something, of your own, you would like to share, then I would be open to that. However, it is wrong for you to take my work and make it yours.

Just because I enjoy watching a TV show, doesn’t make that show free for me to edit. Even if I buy a copy, I still don’t have the right to re-edit the outcome or re-distribute it. To claim that I do have the right online just because the Internet is an open place to share information is simply wrong, and hardly an excuse.

Artists create work to be seen, not to hide it from the world, but that doesn’t give us the right to change the work after we get it, unless we have consent.

Here is another perspective.

I am obsessed with the British TV show “Doctor Who.” The show has been around since the mid-1960’s, and came to an end in the early 1990’s, but was resurrected in 2005.

When the show came back I couldn’t wait to see it, but the show was only broadcast in the UK. A friend of mine downloaded a few episodes and then burned them to a disc and shared them with me. I viewed the discs and fell in love with the show all over again. Was this illegal? The action of my friend was illegal, but I argue that had there been any legal way for me to view it, and even purchase the video right away, I would have agreed to it. To further that point, as soon as the show went out onto DVD I have bought every season. When the show was broadcast domestically I paid for the cable channels to view it. Does that make up for my previous actions? I feel I could argue yes. The viewing British public is allowed the option of viewing the show again as many times as they like via the web, but if you are outside the UK, then you are denied that access. I would be happy to pay a reasonable fee to have that access, to see it right away.

Over the summer, a British actor and writer named Stephen Fry was asked to give a talk at the iTunes festival in England. He spoke on the history of copyright law and where he saw the world going in this digital age. He highlighted each time in history a piece of new technology came along that allowed people to reproduce original content. Fry outlined all the different arguments and legal fights that also accompanied these technical advancements. As he talked about his business, the film and television industry, he stated that he still didn’t know exactly how he felt about the current state of things, but did feel strongly that the industry is doing the wrong thing in taking strong legal action against those who illegally download. He went on to say,

“I think that most of us would agree that someone who downloads on the industrial scale in order to sell and make a profit probably should be prosecuted, but what I have tried to make the people in my own business understand, and many of them refuse to understand it, is that it does no good whatsoever to label people as criminals. We all know that preposterous, irritating, commercial that is on every f***ing DVD, ‘You wouldn’t steal a handbag.’ No, you want to find the person who made that commercial and say can you not see the difference, are you truly so blind, as to think that all moralities is so absolute, that someone who bit torrents an episode of their favorite American TV show ‘24’ so that they can see an episode before anybody else, is the same as somebody who steals somebody’s handbag? Do you not see the difference? Do you not see that when I was illegally taping it didn’t mean that I crossed a line into criminality from which I can never escape, that I am now a criminal I will never be a good citizen. I am the enemy of the copyright makers, the enemy of the creative artist, I am destroying live music, do you not see it was because I was a student, cause I love music, because I wanted a good compilation, because I was excited about the possibilities of having my own compilation, and that the moment I could afford to buy music I bought music. Because I wanted to, and that is what 98% I would submit, at the very least, all of you are like. I bet most of you have illegally downloaded at sometime, but that does not mean that you are now the enemies of society. That does not mean you should be characterized as criminals and pirates and destroyers of art, and enemies of musicians, and enemies of filmmakers, and the idea seems to me so stupid, it’s simply psychologically because it seems to misunderstand how human beings are. We are not nouns, we are verbs, we are processed we are being things through our life. We are not now suddenly criminals.”

Fry goes on to cite a study that shows how this action can alienate the people who do buy the work, and asks, how could any artist feel this way? People want to enjoy the work, he says, but the average consumer has been left out of this debate. Fry says we all just want a reasonable price and that at the core we are not all out to steal from the artist. He says we just need to work out how this can be done in a reasonable way, in the current technological world.

Stephen Fry is not alone in this specific line of thought. Mega-star and U2 lead singer Bono feels the same way. In Earlier this year, during a publicity tour for their newest album, “No Line On The Horizon,” Bono was being interview by Simon Mayo of BBC Radio 5 Live. The band recently agreed to allow their music to be a part of a new website called “Spotify.” The website is just like Hulu or TV.com except it’s for music. For citizens of the UK, the music is posted for free and open to be listened to as often and the user likes, just as an artist might post it on MySpace. The user is restricted from downloading the music for free and will hear a brief commercial every half hour.

Bono spoke about how the band, as artists, want their music heard, and if people can’t afford to buy their music right now, then listen all they like. But as soon as they can afford it, then please go purchase it. He went on to say that people want to be apart of the music and the band.

Here in the United States, entertainment companies are slowly starting to get the idea. In the last couple of years we have seen a slew of new websites owned and operated by the copyright owners. We have Hulu, TV.com, and so many more added each week. These websites allow for the user to go online and view their favorite TV shows. You can even share them on social networking sites.

Now, there are considerable limitations to these sites, but it’s a start and the message they are sending back is clear, “we get it.” It gives the user the option to view their shows as often as they like until the content is available to purchase for a reasonable fee. This is the direction we have been craving for years. The response has been very positive and more and more content is added to these sites everyday.

In a perfect world these steps will continue to evolve and balance will be restored to the Internet, and people like me won’t feel like criminals, but the debate over net neutrality might bring all that to a screeching halt.

So what is Net Neutrality and how will it determine the future of the Internet?

As defined by Google:

“Network neutrality is the principle that Internet users should be in control of what content they view and what applications they use on the Internet… net neutrality is about equal access to the Internet. “

Basically, the companies (or Internet Service Providers), that we pay to access the Internet, now want to further their control over how we use the Internet. They want end to the unlimited use of the Internet as we currently know it. If these companies got their way, I may never be able to enjoy a TV show for free on the Internet. They would require all of us to pay them extra to gain access to use sites like Hulu or TV.com. It wouldn’t stop there either. It’s unclear just how these companies would charge us depending on the different sites we use. With billions of websites in the world their charges could be endless.

The future is still very uncertain for net neutrality. Our government is still debating the outcome. So in the meantime I will enjoy the new technologies that the copyright holders have developed, and soak in as much (legal) entertainment as I can. So far my telepathic campaign to get international shows available domestically for a small fee, has made very little progress (surprisingly).

To answer the original question, am I a pirate? I don’t feel that I am… Yarrr!

Oct
2009

I’m Sorry, I’m an Apologist!

Being an “apologist” means never having to say you’re sorry, or at least I wish it did. According to Alan Cooper, the author of “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” there are two kinds of people in the world, apologists and survivors.

I am proud to be an apologist. If you have read Cooper, then you may be asking yourself why would you own up to being an apologist? If you have not read Cooper, I will explain what it means to be an apologist, a survivor, and why I think the apologists are crucial for us to move forward with technology and design.

What is an apologist? As defined by Cooper, an apologist looks at technology and defends it. To use Cooper’s phrase, an apologist says, “Look at what the computer lets me do!” The apologist loves the technology to the point of defending it and making apologies for it when the technology fails. Cooper goes as far as claiming that the apologist suffers from Stockholm syndrome.

Before I can explain why I am proud to be an apologist, I must define the other side of the coin, the survivor. Cooper says that the survivors “are the vast majority of people who are not impressed by the newfound power, but who are mighty impressed by how stupid the interaction makes them feel.“ Basically these are the folks that just come short of loathing new technology. They accept that they need to use it, but get frustrated quickly when the technology doesn’t allow them to do what they want to do, but instead forces them to do it the computers way.

So, what makes me an apologist? First I must confess I was rather embarrassed reading the difference between the two groups of people. I realized as soon as Cooper described the apologists, I was one. Then I immediately realized I spend a lot of my time helping and problem-solving for the survivors.

My apologist ways began early in life. When I was a freshman in high school, I had a video teacher that always said, in the world of television, learn how to do everything. The more you learn the more valuable you are, the more job security you have. I took those words to heart, and since those days in high school I soaked up as much know-how as I could, little did I realize there was a digital revolution going on.

I learned how to do everything, which included a lot of technical jobs. I could write and report if I needed to, but the technical things were fun. I enjoyed playing with the new and improved toys. These toys allowed me to do my job better and more efficiently. The problem with new toys is, not too many people know how to fix them (as they are new).

When my newsroom made the change over from editing video in the tape-to-tape format, we switched to a computer program called Avid Newscutter. Avid is a very common name is TV. There is an inside joke in TV that Avid is just another four letter word people curse with. Avid is a company that makes many non-linear editing systems.

There was a lot of fear when making a major switch like this. Everyone trusted the old way, and the new way was all computerized. While the computer offered us more options and more functions to edit with, the fear was that we could loose the footage and possibly not get our broadcast on each night.

A few weeks before the newsroom started the switch over I went off for a special two-day crash course in Avid Newscutter. I was the only one, and I came back with my mind just spinning. I was thrilled and excited. I could see all the potential for a better newsroom. I saw how we could edit faster and get more work done than ever before. The problem was teaching everyone.

From that moment forward I spent all my time editing only in Newscutter. I quickly learned all that I could about the program. What I didn’t know, I looked up and studied. A few months later our newsroom completed the switch over. The Avid conversion team stayed with us for a couple of days and went home. What they left behind was a room of very confused people who were nervous about what was going to happen next. After a few weeks everyone calmed down and a lot of people adapted very quickly, but as problems came up, I was able to go around and solve them.

Cooper says the apologists thrive on the problem solving and enjoy the challenges they are faced with. I admit I love a good challenge and in the first couple of years, I enjoyed being able to solve everyone’s edit bay problems. Now, however, the consistent issues are getting old. The problems are the same and the survivors of the newsroom are getting more and more frustrated that Avid has created a program based on a design from engineers, rather than everyday users.

This is a really tough issue with the design of Avid’s products (as with most editing products); the designer is not the everyday user. When I have a serious issue that is way over my head I call our own engineers. When they come to take a look at the problem, it can take a lot of time explaining what went wrong and why there is a problem. There are the basics like why won’t the machine turn on, or where has all my video gone that I just captured into the system? Then there are more technical issues that leave the engineers asking why anyone would want to do something like that. Well that’s just it, as the day-to-day editor there are a great many things we may want to do that they just can’t conceive as an engineer. As an editor I could develop a list a mile long with options I would like and the easy ways of accessing and using those options.

Could this be the voice of a survivor inside of me? Perhaps, or it could just be that as an apologist I hear all the complaints. I see all the problems that the others face, and while I know how to deal with the problems head on, I also see the need to end those re-occurring problems. If these editing programs were based more on spending time with the user and re-designed based on their needs we would save a great deal of time and frustration on the survivors’ part.

The whole point of Cooper’s book is to appeal to engineers and designers to change their ways. He asks them to stop designing complicated programs and technology that the world must fight to learn and understand. Instead, cater to the needs of the user, and start with how they want to use the technology, then make it. It’s a point that author Dan Saffer also makes in his book, “Design For Interaction.”

Saffer says there are good interaction designs and bad ones, but that the most important rule is to design for the user. He says that interaction design is about the behavior, and interaction between machine and user.

I love Apple computers. Half the joy of starting grad school was that I knew I would need a new computer and I knew that I was going to get a new Macbook. I even went as far as convincing myself that I needed a new i-Pod Nano as well. You see it’s the technology that I love. The idea that I can tackle the task at hand with newer and greater technology excites me. I also get excited that I can solve more problems than I was able to before with the newer technology. While the survivor might see it as frustrating to continuously need to get new equipment, I love it. Yes I will admit it’s too much money to spend over and over again, and Apple is especially too expensive, and certainly could drop prices, but purchasing an Apple product has become fun. Sadly that doesn’t take the sting out of my wallet.

During the day I work on Windows. I edit on Windows and do all of my job-required duties on Windows. Then I get to come home and play on my Mac. I could do all of the same jobs on my Mac, but we don’t have Macs at work. Many times I will save some of the work to be done at home so that I can do it on my Mac. Now I could start a Mac versus PC debate here, but I won’t, Macs are just better.

I am an apologist, and proud of it. I love my technology and I love that technology helps me expand my thinking by flexing my problem solving skills. Others may see it as frustrating, but I see it as a advancing my knowledge of how the technology works. It’s that knowledge that would make a good designer. We need the apologists in order to advance the world of design. Without one we can’t have the other. The apologists can see the problems and because of their love of the technology can think about how to make it better. The apologist works towards better communication with the engineer, opens the lines of communication. As an apologist, I can talk to the engineers better about what is wrong and what needs to be fixed. I can explain better to them why the survivor is angry and can’t function. The more apologists that can do this the closer we are to a world without either survivors or apologists, just a world of users.

Sep
2009

“Where Do We Draw the Line Between Opinion and News?”

Dogfish60 asked in her blog this week, “Where do we draw the line between opinion and news?” The posting goes on to ask ” how do we know where one begins and the other starts?” This really got me thinking. In some cases, it does seem clear to most of us, but in other cases we need to make the line more clear.

These days the cable news networks have dressed up talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Kieth Olberman, and Nancy Grace into looking like news shows, but in reality they display anything but news, these shows are simply entertainment shows that cloud themselves in a vail of news. They appeal to a demographic that can’t distinguish the difference between news and the entertainment of opinion. With 24-hours a day to fill, cable news networks are desperate to hold viewers attention and stay on the air. Simply reporting the news just doesn’t cut it in the cable news world. As it is most 24-hour networks only give you headlines at the top of the hour.

Because of this, we live in an age when the most trusted name in news is Jon Stewart, according to a recent online poll taken by TIME magazine. While I personally love Jon Stewart and never miss The Daily Show, at the end of the day, he is a comedian doing satire. I will be the first to admit his show does highlight more issues than a normal broadcast like NBC news might, but that says more about network news than it does Jon. So the question is, do broadcast journalists need to be more entertaining in order to not lose viewers? Certainly that’s what we seem to expect on the web. As Burns writes that wikinews can’t make it in the world without more flash, or specifically entertainment value, life opinions.

Less and less people watch the news anymore, this is both on a local level and on a network (or national) level. There are many more options today for people to get their news. Certainly the Internet offers a great many options, but the 24-hour news channels are also choking the local news too. In my newsroom we get more calls and emails today questioning our position on a story. We report the news. The moment we start sharing our opinions on the news we lose our credibility. So to me Wikinews not allowing commenting gives them credibility. Comments on web stories can be very vulgar and vicious. A great deal of time is spent in my newsroom policing the obscene comments posted on our site.

Getting back to cable news channels, I would love to see a graphic before shows like Nancy Grace and Glenn beck and all the others that states clearly for the viewer, “The following in an entertainment show, and should not be considered a news broadcast.” Maybe that would make things more clear.