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December 05, 2007

When Old Media Means Obsolete Media

-Patrick S Lasswell

Can we please stop returning to the thrilling days of yesteryear for our political commentary? I've got a radio station here in Portland trying to turn back the clock and report on last year's war. Don't get me wrong; I'm a history guy and I love for the lessons of the past to inform our choices. The problem is that the decisions of the past cannot continue to be our choices, especially when we are at war with a continuously changing foe. Last week my favorite station took a break from broadcasting a mix of old and new music to put out an obsolete political editorial on the war. Maybe they decided that since they have new music Monday, they should have old politics Friday.

We are winning in Iraq right now, and that has to be a huge threat to the worldview of the media as a class. The disconnect comes because people in the media report primarily on what's wrong. For decades, they have covered war as a series of catastrophic screwups. Since screwups happen in war on a pretty regular basis, they can almost invariably put that spin on a story and be some kind of right. But now something not in their experience is happening. The US hasn't absolutely won a war in over sixty years and the media has no comprehension of how they exist in relation to success. Absent any bias, they simply don't know how to tell this story.

If this was sports, this wouldn't be an issue. In sports reporting, accurate results on the latest information are always given. You never hear a sports reporter passing off last year's games as current, and that is by design. Sports as we know them were designed in the 19th century to sell newspapers, and they've become more closely tied to the media ever since. The statistics and results are designed to make reporters look good because they can make intelligent predictions on the basis of past results. Sports reporters have comprehensible metrics and almost invariably show tremendous knowledge of their various games.

Regrettably, war is not like sports. There are people who make it their business to muddle statistics and results, getting reporters to make fools of themselves drawing the wrong conclusions. If this wasn't enough, we have reporters who are not qualified to cover conflict. There are virtually no veterans in the newsrooms. A Master's from the Columbia School of Journalism is a fine thing, but it doesn't tell you anything about logistics, weapons effectiveness, or the importance of troop morale.

The survivable solution for the media is to adopt the sports reporter methodology. Report the facts, as best you can find them; which probably means watching the game and the practices. Get to know the event you are covering, preferably by having experience with the game. Talk to the players whenever possible and get their interpretation of the experience. When in doubt, root for the home team.

This is how you sell newspapers as well as radio, and TV spots. This is how my business partner Michael Totten is making a living independently reporting from the Middle East, including Iraq. This is how you earn the publics trust. Nobody really believes that there was a guy running around the old west with a mask firing silver bullets shooting guns out of people's hands. We don't pay attention to re-runs of the Lone Ranger anymore, and if the traditional media doesn't update their war narrative, we won't pay any attention to them, either. It is time to get real or get obsolete.


The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/08/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often.

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