Get me an ethnographer, sweetheart
Forget rewrite, sweetheart. Get me an anthropologist.
The crisis of confidence in the media business has gotten so bad that the Associated Press revealed today that it sent a team of ethnographers around the world to see if young folks consume news differently on their laptops and iPhones than their parents did in print and on TV. And, by golly, they do.
After months of research in such exotic locales as Hyderabad and Kansas City, the Polaroid-packing team came to the conclusion that Jon Stewart is the archetype of next-generation journalism. There’s a certain perverse logic to the findings, as nonsensical, impractical and non-starting as they may be. Here’s how they got there:
As anyone who has young people around the house knows, the first wired-from-birth generation is composed of multitasking, multimedia junkies who consume bits and bytes of buzz as fast as their thumbs can fly. The itch to twitch has abbreviated attention spans to the point that a 2½-minute video on YouTube seems longer to the average young person than the interminable “English Patient” was to me.
Far from being fulfilling, however, the incessant, obsessive consumption of low-calorie factoids has given rise, in addition to occasional instances of repetitive stress syndrome, to a condition identified by the AP’s anthropologists as “news fatigue.”
“Participants with news fatigue would try to ascertain whole news stories but they regularly were left unsatisfied,” reported the ethnographers in a 71-page report. “Ultimately, news fatigue brought many of the participants to a ‘learned-helpless’ response. The more overwhelmed or unsatisfied they were, the less effort they were willing to put in” to following the news.
“Adding to news fatigue among the participants was the widespread belief that ‘all news today is negative,’” continued the study. “Over and over again, the negativity of news – tragedy, crisis, war and terror – added to the desire to tune out.”
That’s where Jon Stewart comes in. “Satirical shows provided an antidote to news fatigue by creating an‘anti-negative,’” said the ethnographers. “Jon Stewart could take even the most serious news and spin it and make it palatable.”
Based on the above findings, forward-looking news executives would be advised to ensure that future stories report all the latest developments, contain all the facts, provide context, include in-depth explanation, forecast future events and, above all else, are upbeat and funny.
Although there is some modest academic value to the AP's research, the impractical and contradictory recommendations derived from it bring to mind a quote from another anthopologst, the legendary Margaret Mead. “Women want mediocre men,” she observed. “And men are working hard to become as mediocre as possible.”
Journalists shouldn't accept mediocre expectations.