Repeat Repeat Performance

I was talking about Twitter with someone and they pointed out something wonderful: while there might be trending topics, it’s possible to read about whatever interests you through a simple search. There may be a saturating conversation that day, but it doesn’t extinguish everything else. Twitter is not a zero-sum game.
Radio, however, is.
I love radio. Some of my first reporting was for WMPG, the community radio station in Portland, Maine, and today I freelance for NHPR News. I listen to the NPR all the time, and I love it — most days.
The last few weeks have proved one of the biggest problems in media, perhaps the reason journalism is failing. I’ve heard more about Michael Jackson, the moon landing, Walter Cronkite and Henry Louis Gates Jr. than I ever heard about the Uighurs, that is until the Uighers hit Guantanamo.
On three different shows on NPR today I heard about Professor Gates. I agree it’s news, but has even NPR been so sucked into the 24 hour news cycle they have to beat stories to death? Is it really necessary to have multiple hours about the moon landing, fresh news 40 years ago?
It isn’t that I’m not interested in these stories, but I’m not interested to the exclusion of other news. What else is going on out there? Nothing? Or just nothing the media thinks we’ll care about?
A diversity of news, opinions and stories are what I turn to news sources for, but unfortunately the product is homogeneous, the same news hour after hour day after day.
And it isn’t limited to radio. Particularly television, but also news papers and website are prone to the same problems. They all cover the same thing, and not necessarily from differing perspectives.
It is easiest to understand in television and radio, where airtime is limited, but then some of the best shows out there disprove the myth that these mediums are bound to such a model. PBS’ Frontline and Frontline World, and PRI’s The World prove the over-saturation model isn’t the only one out there. They cover unique stories, featuring people, places and events not tackled by most outlets. If these programs are doing it, why can’t others?
The last few days I’ve heard about Cambodian fish, learned about Afghan MPs and seen the Somali stock exchange. These stories that connect to the world, and they need to be told. Niche sectors of public broadcasting are the only ones bringing it to us.
The most obvious argument why these programs are so much better: they aren’t built around the profit motive. The journalism world is falling apart, sure, but if coverage of Michael Jackson is all we’re getting I’m not sure its a horrible loss. When the New York Times covers Cronkite’s death almost a week afterward it’s easy to understand why people are leaving.
Newspapers have lots of real estate for stories, so they have to have a wide range. Many, like the Times, usually deliver breadth and depth, but the web offers even more real estate. Television isn’t totally lost, but many times it seems close. Radio has grown into it’s lower tier status, and therefore has learned better how to capture listeners attention. The World and This American Life bring stories, powerful and quirky, exactly what I expect from reporters. It doesn’t have to be with the same stories everyone else is doing — in fact it shouldn’t be.
Twitter lets me chose what I want to learn about, even if the main subject is the same as the headlines. But what if I don’t know what the stories are? What if I don’t know where to look? The headlines and the trending topics both let me down. I expect journalism and the media to fill that void. Maybe until it does I won’t be disappointed its crumbling.

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