News Content – Who's the Boss?

This post really begins at a different blog:  Laurie Ruettiman’s  Punk Rock HR.  On January 15, 2010, on her weekly F@%k It Friday series. she posted a blog called Pat Robertson, Haiti, and The Devil. Her blog contained this video.

This blog and video generated a lively response of comments, including one from me:

Pat Robertson is entitled to his opinion in America, and he is even entitled to express his opinion without unnecessary government intervention, a la the First Amendment. Put a video out on You Tube? Go for it, Pat.

What he is NOT entitled to under our governmental system is to have anyone give a crap about what he says. The fact that he has a video being played over and over again on the news programs (at least I presume it is – I don’t watch television and I first saw this video on this blog) is the fault of news media decision makers who have decided that what Pat Robertson says is important.

I have several videos on YouTube and no one cares. (Well, maybe @BillBoorman does. A little.) I could stand on my street corner all day long and yell the same ridiculous things about Haiti as Pat Robertson, but I doubt that even my local news media would show up.

So I don’t hate Pat Robertson. I hate the CEO of any ersatz news program that has replayed that drivel and called it news, because the decisions of their company is their responsibility, and those decisions are why I even know who Pat Robertson is.

Now Laurie is always generous and thoughtful, responding to all comments on her blog.  This is what she said about my comment:

@JoanGinsberg – yup, you’re exactly right, the media have a huge part to play in people like PR consistently having a soapbox from which to shout stupid, stupid things. However, you’ve also got to put some of the accountability on audiences – PR gets on the news because when he’s on the news, ratings (and revenue) go up. For whatever reason, people listen PR – either because they think he’s a tool and want to hear what kind of tool-like thing he’s going to say next or because they *shudder* agree with him. Either way, he’s on TV because people demand that he be on tv (i.e., implicitly, by watching whenever he’s on), not just because network execs want to force him on us.

After all, TV networks and producers (of news or entertainment, etc.) are not in the business of providing audiences with content, they’re in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. TV shows aren’t their product, you are.

I hope I still have your attention after all of this back story, because what I really want to do right now is discuss Laurie’s reply.

While I don’t dispute the idea that television viewers/consumers are accountable for the content that is created, I maintain that consumers are far less responsible for NEWS content than entertainment content. I will lay ALL of the blame at the feet of consumers when it comes to entertainment, but I’m a lot less sure of audience responsibility when it comes to news content.

Let’s face it, every person in the United States could have called MSNBC on January 2 and said, “Hey, we want you to cover a natural disaster that causes massive destruction and death.  Maybe an earthquake in Haiti.  Within 10 days, please.”  That quake in Haiti, and the resultant news coverage, didn’t happen because audiences asked for it.  No matter how great the consumer demand, and the resultant high viewer percentages to sell to advertisers, the news content has to come first.  Without that content, the news media can’t produce any product.

Al-Qaeda and other extremist terrorist organizations know this all too well.  Their opinions don’t get any airplay from new organizations until they bomb buildings or blow up airplanes.  So they create the content for the TV executives and producers to put on their newscasts. Without that content, the viewers neither know or care about Al-Qaeda’s message.  That content is chosen by the TV and other media executives, and then the audience responds.

Yes, the public, or some degree of it, cares about what Pat Robertson thinks about Haiti, even if it is just to hiss and boo his message.  But the public only cares because – as the children say when they have been caught misbehaving – the other guy ( news organizations) started it.

There was a great movie made while back that satirized this very problem.   “Wag the Dog” is about White House spin doctors hiring a Hollywood director to create a war.  In the movie, news content was CREATED  to control the public demand for certain news.   The movie may have been fiction, but I think it was based, as great satires are, on fact.  That, in my book, is the essence of corporate irresponsibility.

What do you think?  Who should bear the responsibility for inane or irrelevant news content?

HRevolution – Beginnings

I attended a strange and amazing “unconference” two days ago.  It was called HRevolution and it was a collection of HR and recruiting pros coming together to discuss social media and its intersection with their professional life.  It was the first out-of-town HR conference I had ever attended, made up mainly of bloggers (including Twitter micro-bloggers).  The ideas flew fast and furiously, and I already have several HR University lesson plans in the works based on thoughts generated at the Revolution. Those lessons will have to be spread out over several posts, but I want to start here with some introductory remarks about the Revolution in general:

  • One of the attendees at HRevolution, Frank Zupan, lives and work in Cleveland.  He eats corned beef at a deli called Slyman’s; they buy corned beef made at United Meat & Deli (UMD) in Detroit.  The corned beef is injected/pumped with pickling brine with a machine operated by Joaquin Arredondo.  Joaquin is a permanent resident alien (has a green card) – a status that I helped him obtain as the HR manager at UMD.  That circle (Frank to Joaquin to me to Frank) of connectivity wasn’t created by HRevolution or Twitter, but it was discovered there.  It makes a compelling argument for the continuing exploration of social media, and it slaps the argument that “people only connect on social media because they can’t connect in person” right in the face.
  • Laurie Ruettiman of Punk Rock HR is a true superstar of the HR blogosphere.  Ooohs and aaahs were audible when she arrived, and I am old enough to be her mother.  In fact, I discovered through conversation with her that I am older than her mother. But she, like the other Gen X and Ys present (which was most of the room), was absolutely energizing.  Boomers like me can learn a lot from these smart kids, if we will listen.
  • None of the attendees at HRevolution had met me before; they only knew who I was because of my Twitter presence. Yet almost everyone who knew who I was (because of my avatar) hugged me. It was marvelous because I really like hugging.
  • HRevolution attendees have an absolute fascination with bacon.  I have no idea what the origin of this fascination is, or why it continues.  I am happy to indulge the fascination, though.  The first HRevolution attendee who comments (10 words or more required) on this blog post will receive the book “Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon” as a gift from me.


More lessons to follow; stay tuned!