Throwback Thursday: Ted Koppel To Cable News Viewers, Eat Your Broccoli, You Brainless Brats

broccoli.1So Ted Koppel’s written his first piece as a columnist for the New York Times. Editor & Publisher reports:

[Koppel’s] view is that journalists “should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around. ”

In a surprise conclusion, he suggests that perhaps rather than aiming news shows at the disinterested younger segment, the networks should focus on serving older consumers who actually are interested in serious news. (Is there a lesson for newspapers here?)

The goal for the traditional broadcast networks now “is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them,” Koppel writes. “Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

“Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead — though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.

“Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism.

“Now, television news should not become a sort of intellectual broccoli to be jammed down our viewers’ unwilling throats. We are obliged to make our offerings as palatable as possible. But there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic….

“If the network news divisions cannot be convinced that their future depends on attracting all demographic groups, then perhaps, at least, they can be persuaded to aim for the largest single demographic with the most disposable income — one that may actually have an appetite for serious news. That would seem like a no-brainer. “

Got that? Here’s a rough translation of Koppel-speak: “You, American news consumer, can’t be trusted to ask for, or get, the information you want or need. People like me need to do that for you. And if you’re under 34, go watch MTV or something, so the elite media can go back to blaming any and all national failings on uninformed youth.”

But here Koppel gets to the meat–or, rather, that dastardly broccoli–of his argument:

“Even Fox News’s product has less to do with ideology and more to do with changing business models. Fox has succeeded financially because it tapped into a deep, rich vein of unfulfilled yearning among conservative American television viewers, but it created programming to satisfy the market, not the other way around. CNN, meanwhile, finds itself largely outmaneuvered, unwilling to accept the label of liberal alternative, experimenting instead with a form of journalism that stresses empathy over detachment.”

So Koppel’s bummed that FNC is so ragingly successful, of course, so again he reverts to the elitist complaint that the FNC’s viewers are happy with programming that doesn’t jive with the unbalanced worldview of the Koppelian liberal hordes. [Cue violins here.] And while he rightly roasts CNN’s journalism-by-group-therapy, it’s only in the service of dissing the network for–publicly, anyway–refusing to call itself liberal, biased, and proud.

Whew! Quite a first effort as NYT columnist for Ted! I would’ve expected nothing less. Your side lost the news wars, Ted, but what the hell–as long as you want to stay a worthy opponent, we can keep sparring!

Reposted from The Cable Game, 30 January 2006

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