The Search for Intelligent Discourse
Broadcast industry should take a step back to think about how TV news and our democracy might benefit from a shift in mindset
By Al Gore -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/21/2011 12:01:00 AMClick here for more on B&C's 80th Anniversary
If your interest is in breaking news, horse-racing coverage of the election, or socalled "fair and balanced" coverage, you can certainly find it. In fact, you can find "breaking" news just about anywher -- on air, online, and on mobile devices. And since new news is considered of highest value, the media naturally puts great importance on getting news first, and "scoops" are considered all-important. I would like to humbly suggest, however, that the broadcast industry ought to consider taking a step back to think about how both television news and our democracy might benefit from a shift in our mindset -- away from just breaking the news, and toward fixing it.
People want to understand how the news of the day affects them. They want context, insight and informed opinion. They want journalists who get to the truth and not just present a clichéd "on the one hand and on the other hand" shortcut. They want a news network that connects the dots and makes sense out of a complicated world that is all the more confusing because of the cacophony of noises.
We have obviously experienced a profound shift in the media landscape in just the past 10 years; the shape, form and substance of almost all content are all in flux. As members of the media, we have a responsibility not only to anticipate what viewers want and need, but also to satisfy our viewersâ€™ sophisticated palate with content-rich programming. And that's why Joel Hyatt and I founded Current TV in 2005. We felt that the media landscape had fundamentally taken a turn for the worse. The multiple agendas that broadcasters have to serve when they are part of large conglomerates have created real frustration for television viewers.
As a consumer of news myself, I have had the feeling for some time now that we've reached a tipping point where Americans are looking for a fresh and independent perspective, an unvarnished point of viewâ€”and that's what they deserve. Some of our competitors may see us as being on the left side of the spectrum, but the entire spectrum has been pulled so far to the right that we believe that we are completely right about what viewers are yearning for as we enter what is sure to be one of the most heated, energetic and fascinating election years in memory.
Networks owned by conglomerates often cannot follow our lead because of their owners' broad agendas that go far beyond seeking the truth, wherever it may be. What is needed are more independent networks that are not beholden to the larger and broader interests of their conglomerate owners.
Our mission has always been to shine a light on important issues, to spark debate and to speak truth to power. We have a great advantage in that we are not beholden to anyone, or part of any larger corporate structure. Unlike other networks, we have the opportunity to call it like we see it -- without being influenced by the so-called establishment. For any news organization, the goal should be to present the best unvarnished truth they can find on any issue, for anyone who wants to gain insight into the tactics and strategies that have come to define our political process.
So it is no surprise to me that Current was the first network to report on Occupy Wall Street. When others were reporting on the news of the day, we realized that this incipient movement was a game-changer, and then we helped to influence the direction of the news coverage and the headlines.
Ultimately, the fact that we are truly independent is a great advantage. And I hope that distributors of media will allow for more independent networks and that our competitors will raise their own journalistic bar in the coming year. In the end, our interest isn't in breaking the newsâ€”there are plenty of outlets that can provide viewers with that kind of content. But I do hope that Current TV will help us all to understand the news. I feel strongly that we, as a nation, have got to have access to more than just the sound bites and static that have -- with a precious few exceptions, like 60 Minutes -- become all too familiar on television.
It is irresponsible to address the serious problems our country faces with sound bites only. We need analysis based on facts and informed by insight and intelligence. We need reason, and not just emotion, to drive our understanding of the events affecting our lives.
2012 is the perfect time to create, produce and launch the kind of programming that offers audiences a fresh look at what's happening with the elections. It's time to offer in-depth, intelligent contextual analysis of what's relevant and use television to create a multi-way conversation that includes viewers and operates according to a meritocracy of ideas. Far from being discouraged by the existing competition, we are surprised that there aren't more networks out there trying to serve an audience hungry for more thoughtful news content and commentary.
Today, more than ever, audiences are seeking intelligent discourse instead of cynicism and sniping. They are craving away to become part the of conversation; they are not satisfied being passive outsiders. They are demanding tools that can help them become immersed and involved in making a difference on the issues they care about. I am proud of what Current has accomplished, but there's still much more to do. By delivering a multi-screen news experience, all media organizations out there have a real opportunity to become truly vital sources of information for a new breed of savvy, intelligent, politically engaged news viewers. And therein lies one of the best answers to fi xing the problems in the news industry and, in the process, revitalizing our democracy.
Former Vice President Al Gore is cofounder and chairman of Current TV, among other ventures.
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