This is shaping up as a great season for media-watchers. Viewers still go on vacation, but news and entertainment media are busier this summer than ever before, giving us plenty to slice and dice.
• Zimmerman — Since the trial, cable-TV channels, most notably CNN, have done a remarkably effective job of covering and analyzing the controversial verdict and its broader social implications. Anderson Cooper’s interviews with jurors, witnesses and family members have produced some of television’s finest journalism. CNN’s challenge as it struggles to recover from a prolonged ratings slump is how to convert its masterful job of covering big stories to a compelling presentation that will attract viewers during slower news periods.
• Sharpton — Increased public activism and fundraising by Rev. Al Sharpton have prompted many to question MSNBC’s decision to retain him in his daily hosting role. I think Sharpton’s program is weak because he lacks skills as a telecaster, but I see nothing wrong with MSNBC giving him the forum. That’s because MSNBC, like Fox News Channel, has long given up the pretence of being an objective news outlet. That’s unfortunate. But if these channels want to have overt political identities, then they might as well hire people like Sharpton and, a click away, Karl Rove on Fox.
• Rolling Stone — Many things in media change, but Rolling Stone magazine remains remarkably consistent, and its cover photo of accused Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is business as usual for the publication that blends rock culture with significant in-depth reporting. The choice of a cover image, which had already appeared months earlier on page one of The New York Times, was appropriate — something that becomes clear to those who actually take time to read the 11,000-word article.
• Emmys — After the nominations were announced, headlines focused on the fact that none of the six shows in the drama category was from a commercial broadcast network. This underscores what should be a media axiom: The public will pay for quality content. Newspaper and magazine publishers, still struggling with the issue of “free” versus “paid” formats, should take note by investing more in quality reporting in print and online, and then charging a fair price for it.
• Nate Silver — The nation’s foremost political prognosticator will leave The New York Times for a post at ESPN and its parent, Disney. Silver shouldn’t be faulted for taking the biggest possible paycheck, but his work at The Times was both sophisticated and insightful. Using his “models” to predict sports events and contests like the Oscars seems to be a squandering of his talents and a sad reflection of the nation’s fascination with mundane polls and surveys.
• Helen Thomas — The passing of the veteran White House reporter who covered 10 presidents during her remarkable career is an occasion to reflect on how a true pioneer paved the way for a generation of female journalists. Along with Barbara Walters, who has announced her retirement from daily television, Thomas was successful because she played against men using men’s rules, and often scooped them at their own game.
• Sports — Generally excellent coverage of the British Open by ESPN was marred by the ill-advised decision to cut away from actual play for dry interviews with players who had just finished their rounds. While nail-biting play continued, viewers were forced to endure Ian Poulter saying, “I hit some really good shots. It was fun.” Meanwhile, on the baseball diamond, those of us who don’t live in New York and don’t worship the Yankees, are miffed by national coverage as occurred Saturday, when the Fox national game featured the Yankees, followed by ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball with the Yankees, and then Monday’s national ESPN game showcasing the Yankees. Give us a break.
Now, back to you.
Peter Funt is a syndicated columnist and the long-time host of “Candid Camera.”