Head-in-Sand MSM
That old-media 'tude.


Some, at least, are slowly waking up to this. Last month (somewhat to my surprise), the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by me complaining that the paper had built two major news stories around the news of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “support for long-stalled legislation banning drivers’ use of hand-held cellphones” — without bothering to identify where, exactly, the governor had signaled that support…other than “an online interview with a reporter broadcast over the Internet.”

And that was all the information the Times felt its readers needed to know about that.

Around the same time, I was at the Television Critics Association twice-yearly press tour in Pasadena and overheard a guy across the table at lunch — a TV critic from some paper in a minor American city — announce to the person next to him: “I’ve never read a blog in my life. Who has time? They’re just for unemployed people who stay at home all day. No one’s ever made any money from blogging.”

Since I happened to be sitting next to my friend and fellow blogger Moxie, who thanks to clients who discovered her photography through her blog now earns a very nice annual salary working just a few days a month, we had to try pretty hard to keep from laughing. But I did ask the guy if he wasn’t even a little curious about something that affected his own industry.

“No! I’m not worried about my job at all,” he insisted. “My kids don’t read blogs either, and they’re in their 20s.” Then he looked at the lifeless form of the newspaper in front of him on the table and said, “I do believe in fairies. I do, I do, I do believe in fairies.”

Just kidding about that last part, but really, he might as well have.

A little later I ran into Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s president of research and media development, and asked what he thought of this kind of old-media attitude. Wurtzel always has something interesting to say, and I was struck by something he’d noted at the NBC press conference earlier that day: “For you guys, it’s not as though they don’t want what you do, but they’re going to consume it in a different way. The news business isn’t trending down; it’s the paper business that’s trending down.”

“Never fight with the consumer,” Wurtzel told me, about these MSM types who seem so sure of kind of news the public ought to want, “you’ll always lose.” He added: “Boy, there are two businesses I wouldn’t put money into right now — newspapers and TV stations. There’s just too many other ways to get news.”  

Speaking of the TV press tour, I was also amused by my friend Ray Richmond’s Hollywood Reporter blog entry about how to behave at the TCA. Ray noted:

The TV critics have unwritten rules at these affairs, an ingrained code of conduct that first-timers no doubt find perplexing, not to mention unnerving. If you don’t know how to properly behave, there is guaranteed to be embarrassment, admonishments, angry stares, wagging fingers and, in rare cases, the outright withholding of meaningless chit-chat…

Among the rules Ray listed: Never applaud, don’t appear to enjoy the free food, address the stars as “Mr.” or “Ms.” so-and-so, even when that’s patently ridiculous. (When does it ever sound natural to say, for instance, “Mr. Kimmel” instead of “Jimmy?”)

So I guess it was a faux pas for me to complain to anyone who would listen that for the first week of this summer’s tour, lunch was either (a) some sort of cold chicken salad, or (b) a ham or turkey sandwich.

Probably that’s why I detected a disapproving murmer from my colleagues when I asked food maven Rachael Ray at her press conference if she had any suggestions for budget meals, besides cold chicken salads and cold-cut sandwiches that perhaps the planners of these things could use for next time. Maybe some kind of bean dish? Because I think even in San Quentin they have hamburger day, just for variety, or so I’ve been told.

But what a relief it was that Ray, whose new syndicated talk show premieres next month, finally broke the monotony and introduced to this year’s summer tour the concept of cooked food after a whole week of the chicken-salad/cold-cuts routine.

Back to the MSM and its many, many rules. The TCA has a whole list of things members aren’t supposed to do, some of which are quite reasonable: Don’t aggressively ask for autographs; don’t pitch producers scripts; don’t ask stars to sign scripts and then sell the scripts on eBay; don’t go from table to table after lunch and sweep all remaining party favors into a giant shopping bag with your big meaty forearm, like I once saw someone actually do, with a bunch of stuffed bears. (Her TCA membership was later cancelled, and deservedly so.)

But I still remember the scary moment I witnessed at a press conference for Dr. Phil. Some woman in the audience had greeted the TV psychotherapist with loud clapping as soon as he walked onstage, then began making suggestions instead of asking questions: “Why don’t you do a show about how single, middle-aged women can find great men?”

Yes, I know: Eew. Still, by that point in the day I was rather zoned out, so I was a bit startled to see one of the reporters suddenly snarl at her, “Who are you? Where’s your badge?”

“I’m the editorial director of TV Guide Channel!” the poor woman sputtered. Then half-a-dozen angry TV critics began literally circling her, like Piggy in Lord of the Flies. Even though I agreed her questions were awfully stupid, I didn’t think I could bear watching them put her head on a stick so I left the room before the thing played itself out to its inevitable bloody conclusion. 

I also have a couple of my own personal don’ts, as far as behavior is concerned: Unless you are actually conducting a conversation in Spanish, or Spanish is your native language, please don’t pronounce Puerto Rico “Puerrrrto Rrrrrrico” when talking to Hispanic actors, like at least a couple of (non-Hispanic) reporters did once at a press conference for some new sitcom with an Hispanic star. I’m not saying we have to go so far as the British and pronounce Jacques “Jay-Qwees” or Don Juan “Don Jooo-an,” like Shakespeare and Lord Byron, but I’d really prefer seeing less smarm at these things, not more.  

Also, if we do not know each other at all and you happen to see me staring thoughtfully at a tub full of network-provided ice-cream bars during a break, please do not take the liberty of placing your hand on my bare arm, putting your smiling face in front of my face, and announcing with presumptuous intimacy, “There’s also pretzels in the corner over there,” like an overly familiar person did once. It creeps me out! And now you know.

 Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.