Ecclesiastes and the News
For more than a year there has been more than enough change and chatter in Austin media to tickle my imagination. Maybe it’s the holidays, but somehow all of this seems rather hollow, empty, and meaningless right now.
Oh, I could write about change. The end of the year is often the typical time for a television news staff turnover. Yes, there are new reporters in the market. (One of the anchors mangled a newbie’s name on the air. It was the second muff he made in story intro. He might want to read over the scripts first.) One new staffer at KXAN TV (NBC) is Jacqueline Ingles, hired as a multi-platform reporter to cover the Hill Country. She has a nice resume.
None of these seem to matter much to me. To be sure, they matter to the individuals and media involved, but none of them inspire me. I’ve written many times that Austin is a “destination” market because Austin is the center of the universe, all Longhorns long to come home, and it’s still a cool city even though its growth continually amazes me.
These changes aren’t limited to the 48th market. There are continually new faces and assignments at the networks as retirement lures familiar faces away from the anchor desk.
I’m drawn to one of the Wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes, applying a few of the opening verses to media criticism as well as life:
1:8 All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear with hearing.
1:9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
1:10 There is a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has already been, in the ages before us.
-- The words of the Teacher
I often use these words written around 400 BCE in lectures about “new media”, a term now falling out of favor because, I guess, new media isn’t new anymore. For music media, 78-RPM records, gave way to 45’s. Those were followed by eight-tracks and then cassettes. CD’s are disappearing, but vinyl still lives. Remember to back up your music on your hard drive; you could lose your MP3s.
The point is that what was once “new media” has been adapted or rejected (See eight tracks) but it is also true when applied to cycles in news.
In the 1950s and 1960s TV reporters went out armed with a Bell & Howell 16 mm camera equipped with a three-lens turret. Now, KXAN TV (NBC) reporters continue training on the current standard cameras. The station denies rumors that they are going to one-man/woman-bands after the first of the year.
“KXAN is cross-training its staff so reporters may also be photographers, photographers may also be reporters, etc. but we will not eliminate all two-person crews next year,” a station spokesperson says. “The result will be a more efficient operation with staff that has a variety of skills to leverage.” The key word in that paragraph may be “all”.
One-man crews have been the norm at News 8 for years, and years before that, just like it says in Ecclesiastes, “It has already been, in ages before us.” There is nothing new under the sun. Will there be fewer professional news photographers? No, none known of now. Maybe later? Will photographic quality suffer? Possibly. The reporters who shot their own film in earlier ages thought they were pretty good. I did.
Some see Ecclesiastes filled with futility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ecclesiastes is about the big picture. Call it High Def. We have more important things before us during this season of the year and a clean slate for 2010.
© Jim McNabb, 2009