The 9-Second Election, Part 2

The 9-seccond election, Part 2 | Roger Scime | Critical Journalism
Business Week, June 1994

I hope you all enjoyed the “Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave,’ video in my last post. It’s well worth a watch.

In Part 1 of this series, I pointed out that politicians’ platforms, positions, and queries are often reported via sound bites . . . which are becoming shorter every election cycle.

Here are a few examples of the average length of quotes by public officials as broadcast on television news, as reported by the New York Times in 1992.”

  • 1968 – 43 seconds
  • 1972 – 25.2 seconds
  • 1976 – 18.2 seconds
  • 1980 – 12.2 seconds
  • 1984 – 9.9 seconds
  • 1988 – 8.9 seconds

Recently, the Boston Globe published an article titled, “The incredible shrinking sound bite,” in which it cited a recently published study by David M. Ryfe (an Associate Professor here at the UNR Reynold’s School of Journalism, by the way. Ahem) and Markus Kemmelmeier on just this topic. The conclusion: the sound bite had made its way back to 9 seconds by 1992 (at least at CBS).

The author of the Globe piece, Craig Fehrman, stated that shorter sound bites weren’t necessarily a bad thing:

Letting politicians ramble doesn’t necessarily produce a better or more informative political discourse.

However, he notes some drawbacks:

First, and most obviously, [voters] miss out on the variety and authenticity of hearing people speak at length, and in their own words. Short snippets seem to encourage coverage that focuses on candidates’ gaffes and catch phrases. Sometimes, it feels like we get more of the journalists than of the politicians.

Media expert Neil Postman, however, would disagree strongly with this observation. In fact he he believes that shorter sound bites not only harm political discourse and are both a symptom and a cause of an epistemological shift that has dire consequences for our democracy, our nation, and–in fact!–everything else!

To learn how how, you’ll have to read Part 3 of this series.


Plato got it right

Roger Scime | Critical Journalism BlogBefore we continue with part 2 of The 9-Second Election, how many of you remember Plato’s “Allegory of The Cave” from their “Introduction to Philosophy” class? Let me see a show of hands.

Hmm . . . that few, eh?

Well, here’s a refresher course for those who have with short memories. Take my word for it: Plato ties right in with what will be coming next.

Here’s what my friend, Jerry Voltura—who teaches online classes in Critical Thinking and Philosophy—has to say about The Cave:

What is the relevance of the “Allegory of the Cave” in relation to everyday life? For example, how might we relate the world of shadows noted in this allegory to advertising or perhaps to the misconcpetions people have about marriage? We often get involved in circumstances with an unrealistic view of them and then when reality hits, we have mixed reactions. Address this idea in your response noting the relation between Plato’s famous writing and its application to our modern world.

Did you all get that?

Now, I don’t know know many of you read ancient Greek (mine’s a little rusty), so I found this animated version on YouTube (NOTE: It might be a good idea to lower your computer’s volume before hitting “play.” Just a suggestion):

Got all that?

Keep the lessons of Plato’s Cave in mind as we continue on.

The 9-Second Election, Part 1

Roger Scime's Critical Journalism BlogGentle reader, I’d like you to try an experiment: Choose a 1-hour TV show you watched last night and pretend you’re relating the story to somebody who is generally familiar with concept of the show—perhaps some of the characters, its location, and general setting—and try to describe that night’s episode as quickly as you can, while conveying enough information for the imaginary listener to understand the storyline. Time yourself. And, when you’re finished, see how long it took. Chances are it was longer than 2 minutes. Probably closer to—I don’t know—maybe 15 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe even longer if it had a complicated plot.

Now, I’d like you to think back to the 2008 vice-presidential debate between Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin. The format of the October 8 debate was this:

  • The moderator (Gwen Ifill) asked each candidate a question, to which
  • they had 90 seconds to respond.
  • An open discussion period of 2 minutes followed, and,
  • finally, each candidate was given 90 seconds to provide a closing statement.

Next, compare those times with what I asked you to do in my first paragraph. Which was longer, more complete, nuanced, contextualized, and informative? I’ll bet your imaginary listener left with a better understand of—say—One Tree Hill—than about the candidates’ views on foreign policy in the Middle East, or the effects of new taxes on the deficit.

Would it surprise anybody reading this that during the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates during the 19th century, the format was a little different and that

Douglas would speak first, for an hour; Lincoln would take an hour and a half to reply; Douglas, a half hour to rebut Lincoln’s reply.

One of Palin’s responses in 2008: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

One of Lincoln’s, in 1858

It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say I an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything that he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground.

Slightly different: in length, complexity, and context, wouldn’t you say? In one sentence, Lincoln acknowledges the time differential between his and Douglas’s declamations; that Douglass has covered several topics; and asks the audience’s forgiveness for not rebutting each and every argument.

“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

This next series of blog posts will deal with the fact that journalists have accepted, perhaps even promoted, the notion that their readers require less and less information with which to form their opinions. Whether it’s deciding to begin watching a TV series or deciding the next leaders of the free world.

Today, our elected officials need not spell out complicated and detailed campaign platforms, nor provide solid, informative answers to difficult questions. In the 21st Century, a 9-second sound bite is usually all that it takes.

Stay tuned.

Lincoln’s quotes are from: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

What’s the matter with the news? Part 2

Roger Scime | What's the matter with the news?In my previous post I mentioned that the profession (the calling if you want to be dramatic about it), of journalism enjoys a popularity just south of a root canal. I also wrote that I was going to explain why.

First, though, I’d like to offer some possibilities. Don’t worry—you don’t lose any points for a wrong answer:

  • Sensationalism
  • Privacy
  • Bias and partisanship
  • Corruption
  • Commercialism
  • Poor research
  • etc., etc., etc.

Okay, you might be saying to yourself at this point. So, what is the answer?

My answer is . . . Yes. It’s all-of-the-above.

The fact it that journalism (and, by extension, journalists) has lost the public’s respect and is on the brink of becoming irrelevant.

I can’t really disagree, especially with the proliferation and popularity of those pandering platforms that pretend to be journalism: certain cable TV networks, blogs, websites, Tweets, MySpace and FaceBook pages.

By the way, see what I did there? I used alliteration in the sentence. All those p’s.

Getting back to the point, which can be summed up in one short sentence: Journalism is in trouble, has been heading in that direction for a while, and finding an solution to its seemingly inevitable slide may may be futile.

Hmmm . . . That’s a bit more than “short,” but is a perfect example of the fundamental problem that journalism faces. I either lied or misled mischaracterized or—most likely—didn’t bother explaining what I meant by “short.” In other words, what I wrote had no veracity, it was not credible.

And that, I believe is, what is wrong with the news: As communicated, by whatever means, most of it lacks credibility. As Judge Judy often says: “If it doesn’t make sense, it’s a lie!”

I believe that in order for journalism to regain its credibility and reputation and standing, journalists must apply that which most j-schools promise, but that few deliver: the use of Critical Thinking (also known as “informal logic”) in researching, analyzing, and, finally, writing the news. I like to call this “Critical Journalism,” and that’s what I will be writing about: How to do it.

I believe it was Carl Bernstein who said something along the lines of: “Journalism is the best version of the truth.” Actually, I’m pretty certain my paraphrase is off by an order of magnitude at least. Carl would never have written so clunky a sentence, even on his worst day. But I hope you get the point:

If journalists write better, more truthful, more cogent stories, people will begin to respect us again.

That’s what I believe. I wonder if you believe it, too. If you have an opinion on the matter, drop me a comment in the little box below.

What’s the matter with the news? Part 1

All journalists are corrupt and ignorant bums!



Well, maybe.

Not that many years ago, while working toward my MA degree at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, I was exposed to a number of studies decrying the sad regard in which the public at large held members of the profession in which I had spent a great deal of my life, and to which I planned to dedicate further years.

I admit, I was pretty shaken. I knew that newspaper readership was declining and that people just didn’t trust “the media” that much anymore. Was this necessarily a bad thing? Weren’t there alternatives to print and television news? Blogs, websites, portals and good old Soc-M—Social Media?

By the way, I’d like to get something straight from the get-go: I despise the term media when referring to newspaper and television news. The First Amendment to The Constitution refers to “freedom of the press,” and, if it was good enough for the Founders, it’s good enough for me (That’s the least of my reason for disliking the term, and I’ll explain why in a later post).

The bottom line is that I am (among other things) a journalist, and I’d like to see some respect restored to that profession to which I’ve dedicated so many years (and bear the weight of many thousands in student loans!).

I consider myself a pretty smart fellow, so the first thing I did was to identify the problem. That was easy: People just didn’t trust us. They really didn’t trust us. We ranked just below used-car salesmen and just above the fellow at Blue Cross-Blue Shield who just denied your claim. Or, vice-versa.

Okay . . . So why didn’t people trust us? After all, after Woodward and Bernstein and Bernstein broke the Watergate story, journalists were revered. Weren’t they?

Well, not by all, it turns out.

More on that in Part 2, which I’ll post this Friday.

What is this blog’s purpose—and why should you read it?

This blog will cover the:

  • ruminations,
  • ideas,
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of me . . . Roger Scimé (note the acute accent over the é—that’s not part of the domain name, only because ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names And Numbers, won’t allow things like accents, ampersands, underscores, umlauts, etc., etc., etc., in domain names. Go figure.

Back to the point:  In my many years on this sad and sorry planet, I’ve been a

  • professional musician,
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  • Internet entrepreneur,
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  • and a whole bunch of other things. Continue reading What is this blog’s purpose—and why should you read it?