Sunday, January 24, 2010

Non-Stop News and Ireland's Charlie Bird

The current issue of the New Yorker magazine, has an article on the pressure to entertain or perish in news provision, which has fed the press’s dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative but pro-conflict.

Meanwhile, in the city where news is one of the dominant industries, Washington DC, Charlie Bird, the resident bureau chief for Ireland's State broadcaster, RTÉ, is surprised that he hasn't a prominent role at events such as White House briefings, maybe believing that he should have had some preference because he's Irish and he feels isolated as a one-man show, with presumably a camera crew on hire as needed.

Why does RTÉ have Bird based in Washington, and currently in Haiti, when he could never cover stories as a well connected local would?

Apart from St. Patrick's Day, why spend maybe $1m or more on this self-indulgence when so many other areas are subject to cutbacks?

It's costly public relations for a management who reckless overspent during the boom and more than half the organisation's income comes from a tax.

As for Haiti, there are probably more well-paid journalists there than relief workers and is it really vital to have Charlie Bird there to give his Irish audience some special insight. they would miss from all the feed reports available to include in news reports - - at a much lower cost

“I don’t know what madness possessed me to take on this job,” The Sunday Times reports Bird exclaims in a documentary about his time in the American capital, to be broadcast Monday on RTÉ One. “I’m a home bird rather than a Washington person.”

“I didn’t know a soul in Washington and was facing into a whole life away from friends and family,” he says on the documentary. “It’s taken me a lifetime back home to build up solid political contacts, and in DC I started from scratch. I have to say it all felt a little daunting.”

He had been warned what to expect. “People who have come here before, who were working for RTÉ, have always spoken about the loneliness of the place,” Bird said. “At my age, I find it even more so. People have this notion that, when foreign correspondents are abroad, everything is fantastic, it’s hunky dory. It takes time to get to know people. I didn’t know anybody. I have to admit I found it really lonely.”

The Sunday Times says in his characteristic habit of referring to himself in the third person, he says: “Nobody gives a flying fiddler who Charlie Bird is in Washington.”

Of course they don't.

It's like a priest arriving in Rome expecting the locals to tug the forelock.

The New Yorker says in September, Pres. Obama spoke at a memorial service for former CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite, in New York. In his speech, Obama said that Cronkite’s standard was “a little bit harder to find today.” During the 2008 election, Obama was the object of near-veneration, but now that the President has rolled out his ambitious initiatives, he bristles at the way he’s treated in the media.

The magazine says in the current issue, Ken Auletta examines the Obama Administration’s fraught relationship with the media (subscribers only). The President’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, tells Auletta that the President is on a mission “not just to change politics in Washington but to change the culture of Washington, and the media is part of it.” Auletta draws on dozens of conversations with Administration officials and Washington reporters to illustrate how this mission has not been entirely successful, as both the President and the press struggle to deal with the new media landscape.

Auletta writes, “The news cycle is getting shorter—to the point that there is no pause, only the constancy of the Web and the endless argument of cable. This creates pressure to entertain or perish, which has fed the press’s dominant bias: not pro-liberal or pro-conservative but pro-conflict.”

  • Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, tells Auletta, “What used to drive one or two days of coverage and questions is now readily subsumed every few hours.”
  • David Axelrod tells Auletta, “There are some really good journalists there, really superb ones. But the volume of material they have to produce just doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for reflection.”
  • The New York Times’s Peter Baker says, “We are, collectively, much like eight-year-olds chasing a soccer ball. Instead of finding ways of creating fresh, original, high-impact journalism, we’re way too eager to chase the same story everyone else is chasing, which is too often the easy story and too often the simplistic story—and too often the story that misses what’s going on.”
  • NBC’s chief White House correspondent, Chuck Todd, in a typical day does eight to sixteen standup interviews for NBC or MSNBC; hosts his new show, “The Daily Rundown”; appears regularly on “Today” and “Morning Joe”; tweets or posts on his Facebook page eight to ten times; and composes three to five blog posts. “We’re all wire-service reporters now,” he says.
  • The former White House communications director Anita Dunn says, “When journalists call you to discuss a story, it’s not because they’re interested in having a discussion. They’re interested in a response. And the need to file five times a day encourages this.”
  • Jay Carney, Vice-President Joe Biden’s spokesman, tells Auletta that budget considerations now keep reporters from travelling with politicians. “Eventually, there’s a loss of what the public knows.”
  • “This White House, like others, does its best to manipulate press coverage,” Auletta writes, and is known for its discipline.