Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Something to ponder ...

Here is an interesting article at Broadcasting & Cable. What is interesting specifically is what NBC Universal President Bob Wright had to say about cable news:

Despite all the media attention given to cable-news programming—from Bill O’Reilly’s histrionics on Fox to Anderson Cooper’s exhibitionistic empathy at CNN—American viewers are not all that interested. Wright pointed out that the cable-news networks combined draw fewer unique viewers all night long than a single half-hour of NBC Nightly News.
“You’d think it would be 25 million people. It’s smaller than that, it’s 5 million-6 million,” Wright said. “It’s not a very large group.”

Two valid inferences, it seems to me, can be drawn from this. One, news junkies form a distinct minority of the population, period. And a significant majority of that minority prefers Fox.

Perhaps newspapers could reverse their declining numbers by finding out what most people are interested in -- books, for example -- and writing about that, rather than assuming that the world of readers is made up of policy wonks (and liberal policy wonks at that).


  1. And, yet, to listen to people talk, everyone and their mother watches Bill O'Reilly. It's always nice to ground things in actual figures. Still, small numbers doesn't always necessarily translate into small influence. Those four or five million policy wonks are (unfortunately, in many ways, in my opinion) have a lot more political power than the millions more who just watch the evening news.

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  3. Frank, I saw that same piece in "B&C," and it got me to thinking about the perception we have of some things, and how that perception might be at odds with what the numbers say ...

    If you make your living in the "news" business, are you liable to place more emphasis on stories "about" the news, than would be placed by the general public?

    More than once, I've pointed out to a news consumer, complaining about some detail of our content, that he-or-she is not the 'average' viewer/reader when deciding what should or should not be presented ... but maybe the news producer should be reminded of that, as well.

  4. Hi Jeff:
    I think you're exactly right. I know as a book editor that newspaper book editors are likely to regard a book on journalism -- say a biography of the Chicago Tribune's Col. McCormick -- as more important that the general reader is likely to. By contrast, books critical of the media -- Bernard Goldberg's Bias, for instance -- tend to be regarded by the media as either worthy of no attention or deserving of critical demolition.
    Newspapers think they can attract younger readers by covering rappers. But younger readers tend not to care what newspapers have to say about rappers. Which is reasonable: Kid finds out Dad is listening to the same music Kid is, Kid is likely to drop the music, not think Dad is cool. You have to believe that some things are worthy of serious attention, not because such attention will attract readers, but because ... they are actually worthy of serious attention. Consider this: Young guy just out of grad school lands a good job. Notices his immediate superior -- and HIS immediate superior -- has the Wall Street Journal under his arm every day when he walks into the office. Think the young guy's going to be reading the WSJ pretty soon? I do.
    So let me change my original point and suggest instead that newspapers stop trying to guess what people want and just honestly look for NEWS -- something that hasn't already been picked over by everyone else. How often do I hear that we have to cover something because ... the Times had a big piece about it? Is that the criterion for determining what is worth covering -- that the Times paid note to it? News is as renewable a resource as exists. And it's available everywhere.

    And a note to Frank:
    One could argue that the policy wonks deserve to have more influence because they pay more attention. As for Bill O'Reilly, my wife, who is pretty apolitical, watches him from time to time and likes him, thinks he's charming -- doesn't take him terribly seriously, though. Which I think is about right and I think is a view shared by more than is widely thought.