Monthly Archives: December 2008

IReporters

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  IReporters.

In these tough economic times everyone is being forced to do more with less and if you’re a business, that means less employees.  Companies are slashing payrolls in an attempt to save face, save money and avoid bankruptcy.  Sure, the really large corporations are more than happy to keep their CEO bonuses, golden parachutes and lavish company retreats, but working men and women are easily expendable.  In fact, I believe “Working Men and Women are Easily Expendable” is the name of the first chapter in, Large Faceless Global Corporations for Dummies.

Nowhere is this unfortunate trend more evident than in the twenty-four hour cable news business where industry leader CNN has spent the bulk of the last year replacing their old fashioned, highly educated, fact-finding reporters with cheap labor in the form of IReporters.

If you don’t watch CNN regularly – perhaps because you have a healthy fear of Lou Dobbs – let me initiate you to the world of IReporting.  Mr. (or Mrs.) Average Citizen shoots video of whatever he (or she) sees in front of him (or her) then uploads it to CNN’s website and Ta-da! it’s news.

Sometimes it is an actual newsworthy event like footage of a large wave of flame swallowing homes in the California hillside.  Other times it’s a disgruntled citizen vocalizing their discontent with government.  And other times it’s a three-legged cat on a skateboard.

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The majority of IReports are (thankfully) only available on CNN’s website, but several times a day the network airs some of the more entertaining videos it’s received as part of its regular programming.  For these inspired nuggets of farce and conjecture the IReporter doesn’t get reimbursed with good ol’ fashioned dollars, but rather with fifteen minutes of fame and a free lock of Wolf Blitzer’s beard.  (Okay, I’m not actually sure about Blitzer’s beard.)

The problem with IReporting is that it’s part of a bigger, nastier trend in cable news; the cutting of budgets wherever possible in order to reap a higher profit for the networks’ corporate overlords.  Who needs timely and pertinent information delivered to the masses when we can just watch Joe Six-Pack bitterly complain about the bank bailout on his webcam?

More than ever before TV news is simply about the bottom line.  And as we Americans know, the best way to make a tidy profit is on the backs of cheap labor.  Or in the case of IReporters, free labor.  No need to pay a camera crew to cover that natural disaster when there are more than enough people with camera phones willing to submit footage of the tragedy for free.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by CNNs ingenious cost-cutting endeavor.  Cable news has been headed down this dark road for a long time.  A day spent viewing these news channels reveals a startling shortage of actual “news.”  They do, however, provide pretty people in studios talking about stuff that passes for news (i.e. the latest missing blonde co-ed), cheaply produced documentaries (i.e. reality TV), and an overabundance of talking head programming.  Nothing says “too frugal to do any reporting” quite like charismatic hosts refereeing screaming matches between partisan political operatives.

The good news is that even though twenty-four hour cable news is becoming increasingly user-generated and has failed to provide the American public with well researched, in-depth reporting (or anything closely resembling it), we’ll always have our newspapers.  They’ll live on forever and provide us with information that’s vital to the survival of our democracy and our way of life.

Right, Tribune Company?

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Black Friday

You know what I’ve been thinking about lately?  Black Friday.

Last Thursday evening, after participating in the great American holiday tradition of eating and drinking excessively, I settled in to watch some TV.  I didn’t particularly care what was on I just needed a place to anchor my ever-expanding ass.

While digesting my Thanksgiving feast (a meal which could easily be described as awesome) I sat through three-plus hours of television (which could be easily be described as mediocre) and noticed the local news predictably teasing their Black Friday stories; each affiliate having sent one of their crack reporters to canvass the local box stores.

Has it been a year already?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term Black Friday you’re either living a sheltered existence on a rural commune or you’re really stupid.  Or maybe both.  It is, of course, the post-Thanksgiving shopping orgy that takes place at retail stores all over the U.S. of A.  Personally, I’ve always hated the Black Friday moniker because it doesn’t sound like a consumer holiday as much as it sounds like the name of a bad heavy metal band or a re-make of the movie Friday with an all African-American cast.  Oh, wait…

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Gimme, gimme, gimme!

It is on this holiest of days when prices are dramatically slashed on loads of merchandise and all one has to do to take advantage is rise at the crack of dawn, endure long lines in frigid temperatures, then battle hordes of ruthless Christmas shoppers for the privilege of purchasing overpriced crap from China.  I assume Black Friday is one of the reasons Europeans hate us.  Our excessive arrogance and lackluster foreign policy are the other reasons.

People who know me might be surprised to learn my true feelings toward Black Friday.  After all I like a good deal as much as the next guy and I love overpriced crap from China.  So what’s my  beef?

Well, to start there’s the idea of getting up at five in the morning after the most gluttonous holiday on the calendar.  Then there’s  the act of being herded like cattle with a group of shop-happy strangers who’d easily kick me in the groin if I got between them and that laptop that’s on sale.  And I’d endure all of this, for what?  So I can save $100 on a Blu-ray player?  Thanks, but I’ll sleep-in instead.

Unfortunately, this year’s Black Friday truly lived up to its macabre name when a Wal-Mart employee in Long Island was trampled to death by bargain-thirsty shoppers.  Absolutely horrific.  And as one union representative said after the tragedy, it “could have been avoided.”

You think?

One way to avoid unwanted deaths in the aisles of box stores would be to stop having sales that require poor and middle class people to line up in the freezing cold like animals before sending them in to fight for trendy merchandise.  Another way would be for these people to think twice about participating in this kind of carnage.  If you’re up at daybreak on Black Friday because these sales are the only way you can afford to buy the Playstation 3 you so desperately have to have, then you really need to sit down and reevaluate your life.  Maybe it’s time to put that money in a savings account or a piggy bank.

But then again, what do I know?  I’m just a jackass with an opinion who’s more than willing to pay top dollar for appliances if it means sleeping in slothfully AND not being part of a mob that crushes someone to death.

In this day and age, maybe that makes me the crazy one.