Monday, November 3, 2008

NBC Final Spurt: Mainstream Media Buffet With Some Deli Stuff

by Stine Eckert
For this blog I concentrate on NBC's videos in the Latest Program, Web Only, and Politics section as well as on the First Read blog, which is part of MSNBC.

Staring at this stage for two months: the NBC Nightly News online video player. Sometimes confusing and redundant, this is a neat set-up to watch current and archived videos. This is the last blog post as our project ends with election day on November 4, 2008.

THE election

Of course a week before THE election on planet earth users could find in NBC Nightly News' online video player oodles of tidbits about THE election: snafus in early voting, Laura Bush stumping in Kentucky, the candidates fight against illness, interpretation of polls, campaign trail coverage of Pennsylvania and Ohio... NBC's online election buffet offered a little bit for everyone who likes a mainstream media diet. Among the deluge of videos I just picked a handful of worthwhile clips and point out a couple of bad apples in the batch.

NBC made some interesting attempts to cover the right stuff: issues like green energy, science, and education, another third candidate, questioning the power of polls, the heated issue of homosexuality on the Californian ballot, and even a peak beyond its own nose – at least sort of – into Israel (U.S. ally), Turkey (U.S. ally), and Kenya (Obama’s family origin). However, most stories stopped short when it became more interesting such as the nitty-gritty details of going green or a comprehensive summary of third parties.

Information goulash – NBC’s Obama interviews

My week of observation started off with the discovery of an interview of Obama by Brian Williams. In the second seven minutes dated October 30, 2008 Obama talks about why Bill Clinton was better off campaigning by himself, how much the auto industry means to him, and the trickiness of appointing the right Supreme Court justice

Unfortunately I couldn’t find an extended interview version but only a number of clips on individual topics such as “talking to Taliban”, “being a recession president”, “America’s aging infrastructure”, and “on Afghanistan, terrorism” as well as other chopped up pieces. While this might help users who are interested in only one topic it should not be too hard to also upload the whole interview in one piece. After all, this is one of the Internet’s great strengths, to give space to a long piece that tells the audience in its coherence and development, more than just the obvious. How an interview is conducted from start to finish provides additional information for the user to judge the candidate (and the media). Besides, it is tedious to pick up all the shards of sound bites in five different video sections (Latest Program, Most Viewed, Web Only, Politics, Decision ‘08) to compose a full mirror of information and impression.

Keeping a thin blanket of issue coverage: Where They Stand

NBC also continued with its series NBC’s Where They Stand this time concentrating on how "green" each candidate would be as president. The story gives only a brief summary still leaving the voter wondering what the candidate’s approach to some environmental issues are (e.g. geothermal and solar energy, how they will actually cut carbon emissions, how much money would go intto supporting green jobs). Both believe in the oxymoronic notion of clean coal and offshore oil drilling, which should make it hard for true green believers to decide for the lesser of two environmental evils: John McCain who wants to build 45 more nuclear power plants by 2030 or Barack Obama whose strategy toward nuclear energy we learn nothing about in NBC's visual attempt to throw some crumbs to tree huggers.

Briefing Book Issues 08
On the other hand NBC’s Briefing Book has filled up with more and important issues that are rather neglected in the general debate on television: comparative information on abortion, science, consumer issues, and education. A nice contribution to give voters background information, too bad some of these issues were not featured on Nightly News.

Better aggressive than nothing

Another rather rare third party piece showed up. However, similar to the interview with Ralph Nader, NBC’s Ron Allen interviews Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr rather aggressively with an attitude of doubt or criticism that I don’t see when John McCain, Barack Obama and the like are questioned.

However, the short clip gives a wrap up of the Liberitarian Party and their presidential candidate Bob Barr. “The Liberitarian Party brings those things that the Republican Party used to stand for but no longer does.” The very conservative Barr entered Congress as a Republican in 1994 but lost his seat in 2002. According to NBC he currently polls at 2 or 3%.

It would have been a great service to the public if NBC would have produced a third party series introducing all their presidential candidates and so showing alternative choices – they are part of U.S. political landscape, too. If NBC wants to fulfill its function to provide its audience (i.e. the public) with information to help citizens make informed decisions in a democracy, it needs to pay more attention to what's happening outside the center. After all, providing information that no one else can get is its legitimization for existence.

The power of polls
Despite its own reliance on polls, NBC uploaded a two minutes video of October 30, 2008 dedicated to pointing out the flaws of surveys: landlines v cell phones, honesty, and intended lying to give the other camp false security. It's a nice piece behind the scenes for people don't think about where the numbers come from.

Proposition 8 – Same sex marriage in California
"As hot as the presidential race" the reporter calls it. An October 30, 2008 story sums up the passionate fights for and against same sex marriage in California. If Proposition 8 as its official ballot title reads passes, it would ban same sex marriage in California. Polls are close as gay and lesbian couples rush to tie the knot before something that goes without saying for heterosexuals and was won just six months ago might become a rainbow colored fairy tale of the past – an informative piece on a state issue at the sidelines of the national election.

Turkey for Obama -- and other exotic glimpses

An almost two minutes story of October 31, 2008 gives a glimpse into a country featuring a strong Muslim population. As much as many in Turkey wish for Obama to become U.S. president, they all also fear the hostile U.S. approach towards Islam.

An interesting three-minute kaleidoscope of U.S. voters in Israel dated October 30, 2008 starts off with ping-ponging between voices for Obama and McCain. Between 7.000 and 10.000 U.S. citizens are registered to vote from Israel. Many of them come from swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida – an unusual look behind the scenes of organizing the U.S. election overseas.

Two November 3, 2008 videos turn their attention to a continent most of the time neglected and forgotten by media but suddenly of interest because of the origin of Obama’s father: Kenya. The short clips feature the two sides of the Obama coin there: celebrating Obama in a musical as a son of the nation but also the serious consequences for his family who built a fence and are protected by guards from too much attention.

Thou shall not listen to rumors

This three minutes clip of October 31, 2008 speculates about rumors of Sarah Palin wanting to run for president in 2012, the McCain campaign’s tendency to paint her as scapegoat if McCain loses mixed with some of the disagreements on issues such as same-sex marriage.

However, the clip starts off with the anchor saying that now in the final week of the campaign “you would hope that voters would be focused on nothing but the issues but it’s rumors not issues grabbing some of the headlines.”

Hhhmmm, who is making these headlines? And who is thriving on them to catch and bind these fickle eyeballs to consume whatever the screen shows (probably also issues if they would be aired more)? Having said this, here’s a piece on some current juicy McCain/Palin gossip. But voter, please focus on the issues here, won't you!?

Predict your own election!
Finally, MSNBC offers a neat toy, an interactive map for the user to fill in toss-up states and see the outcome of your personal hunch.

On its Decision '08 home page MSNBC offers more interactive tools, photos, cartoons, name it.

This will be the last post for this blog since this media observation project stops with election day on November 4, 2008 (which as of this writing is roughly 12 hours away). Despite all the fun of sometimes checking NBC Nightly News online more often than my e-mail, no matter how the election will go, I and the country can concentrate again on some other important issues. Back to non-election mode of real life.

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