Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Media: No Twittering on the Air

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I've long been a critic of running opinions from the general public on news programs, whether on radio or television. Talk shows are one thing--they are entirely based on the opinions of the host and the audience in many many cases, and everyone knows that. However, opinions have no place in a short-form or long-form newscast. While one might say that "experts" interviewed in an analysis section of a news shows are just offering opinions, those experts are vetted by the news staff and their position or background is presented, so those paying attention are either informed of the expert's bias or can easily research the expert's bias based on the affiliation presented. In the end, the news organization still has a degree of editorial control and a responsibility to present a balanced view of the news item, so the interviewing of an expert doesn't bother me.

What does bother me is including "man on the street" interviews or, even worse, "instant feedback" from e-mail or other electronic media. In the latter case, there's often no way to find out who actually submitted the feedback. It could be an employee of a company affected by the news items, a marketer trying to sell something, or a political operative trying to shape public opinion instead of just a common citizen. There's no way that a news organization can check on such a submission during a show, but even the venerable BBC Newshour has started to include e-mails sent during its one hour show as part of its presentation. I find this almost inexcusable.

Twitter, with its 140 character limit for messages, has now taken the instant feedback phenomenon to a new low. Not only is the potential source of the opinion suspect, but the message itself may be unreadable in broadcast media. I've heard reporters on the CBC, BBC, and other media outlets reading a tweet that barely made any sense when read aloud and trying to explain the bad grammar or abbreviations in it to the audience. (I'll give the CBC credit that I've only heard them do this on Cross Country Checkup, which is a call-in talk show where opinions are legitimately presented, but it still sounded terrible.)

This should be a sign for the news organizations that they've gone too far. Not only are they presenting things that I think are inappropriate on a newscast, but those items are now not even comprehensible. Writing is important in broadcast media, and good writers can make or break a broadcast. ("As It Happens" on the CBC would not be such an iconic show without its excellent writing staff.) Presenting someone's attempt to jam an uninformed opinion into a 140-character tweet detracts from the writing on the remainder of a show.

Of course, unless the inclusion of tweets in a broadcast starts affecting ratings, the networks will probably keep presenting them, and I'll keep flinching.


Wilson L said...

I am no fan of the Prime Minister, but the whole wafer-gate incident has gone too far. At first I thought it was soft news and being reported as something amusing, but the local CBC reporter went out on the street to find what some Catholics thought of it- they were offended.

It was a friggin wafer! Something about officials eating raw flesh in this country really turns the media on.

Glitch said...

For those who missed the story referred to in the previous comment, see this article...