As I write this week’s blog reflection, I am “second screening” the Democratic Debate on PBS. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff managed to incorporate questions from social media without the result looking like a circus. The graphics were a simple lower third that indicated the question to which the candidates were responding to at any given time. The stage was simple, clean lines and colors. No props needed, unlike the Republican Debate held at the Reagan Library on CNN (Reagan’s Air force One). As I watch and rewind, thanks to my TiVo, I find myself listening more attentively than I have in previous debates, Republican or Democratic, and I have come to the conclusion that presentation makes or breaks communicating a message. This is where radio and television have the advantage over social media.
Think back to the previous debates of both parties. CNN with the aforementioned Air force One, Fox News with their flashy stage mimicking their high energy newscasts, CBS with it’s Democratic debate, CNN with their second debate in Utah and finally PBS with their understated set design even keeping moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff in subdued lighting so as to focus attention on the candidates.
Taking note of this, I could not help think about how news is presented on social media and how television seems to be relinquishing it’s advantage of presentation by seeming to be taking a page from online outlets in how to present news and information—fast and furious.
Linguist and American University professor Naomi Baron makes the case that technology has changed the way humans read, write, speak and listen. She is not wrong. Busier set designs keep the short attention span of viewers, reliance on culling questions for candidates from sites such as Facebook or Twitter instead of listening and the art of follow up questions seems to be dead. These are just some examples of how traditional media (television) has adapted to the rise of social media. Instead of debates of substantive questions, answers and moderators, it is now a clash of egos and celebrity journalists akin to The Hunger Games. Oh, Stephen Colbert beat me to it!
Well, at least we still have PBS.