The medium is the message…

I haven’t been following the snit between FOX News and CNN, and all the recent CNN troubles, because, frankly, I don’t think TV can convey good journalism. TV can’t do journalism well because the medium won’t allow it. I’ll refer you to Neal Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and other writings for an explanation. Also refer to the structural biases of journalism as they apply to TV.

I also realize my position is radical. Despite the troubles that the medium of TV presents, there are many fine journalists who labor every day to make it work and deliver the best news product possible. My favorite TV “journalist” is Aaron Brown of CNN (the quote marks indicate my disrespect for TV, not Brown). I watch his show nearly every night.

Here’s an interesting line from a Chicago Tribune article about the turmoil at CNN:

“Ratings are the greatest enemy of good journalism in television,” said Tom Johnson, [Walter] Isaacson’s predecessor as chairman and CEO of CNN.

Ask yourself what happens to a newspaper when readers stop buying it.

The formula is simple, and we all know it: TV creates a product that attracts viewers. Advertisers pay TV for access to those viewers. No viewers, no advertisers. No advertisers, no money. No money…you get the picture.

We’ve seen newspapers change since the introduction of USA Today (a response to TV). Even The Wall Street Journal uses color and photographs today. Newspapers have made many changes in content, but they remain one thing that TV cannot be: a print-based medium, i.e. a cognitive system that conveys propositional content about the world.

TV is a medium of pictures, which are inherently conveyers of emotional, non-rational, non-propositional content. What sound is involved in TV must conform to the sound-bite culture so as not to intrude on the pictures. Oh, and let’s not forget the music that tells us at every turn what to feel, not what to think.

Yes, ratings are the enemy of good journalism on TV. This statement is one of the most cogent arguments for this proposition: TV and good journalism do not mix. If CNN wants to survive, it had better get more entertaining.