Friday, March 30, 2007

Fact, fiction or a little of both?

The line between journalism and entertainment continues to blur and it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. And it's not just for the MTVers of the world anymore.

CBS producer Susan Zirinsky is in on the trend. She has been the executive producer of "48 Hours" for more than 10 years and she now has a side project. She and a few other fellow "48 Hours" crew are producing a series of "Webumentaries" that complement the post-nuclear disaster drama "Jericho." The low-budget, five-minute pieces are part of the "Countdown" series on that add add a non-fiction element to a fictional show. The mini-documentaries contain interviews with real experts about disaster readiness, radiation poisoning and similar topics meshed with a prequel about one of the show's characters.

For example, a character wants to find out how to survive a nuclear attack.....well, he gets on his cell phone to receive a video transmission, which is actually the real-life reported piece, complete with interviews of government officials, academic experts and other nuke know-it-alls. The total package is a combination of facts and fiction; and it's pretty cool. Okay, a little hokey at times but I think it works.

Zerinsky, who has a serious background in news, thinks the series keeps all journalistic integrity intact.

"What we want is, in an interesting way, to impart a nugget of information," she told the Tribune. "It's just the appetizer. The meat of the course is still what we do for a living."

Isn't that what we're all trying to do as journalists? Entice readers and viewers to read or watch our stuff with "appetizers," whether it's with a jazzy lead or catchy tease. I think it's a good idea and it's somewhat rooted in a tried-and-true journalistic theory.

The concept is a little fluffy and it can be kind of corny. Even Zirinsky was wary about it at first. But as readership and viewership is dwindling, we might need to spice up news to make people actually want to watch it!

CBS, like all networks, needs to get on this web fad if they want to keep up and stay "cool." And while I wish people wanted to watch the news without entertaiment programming, that's not reality. So if we, as journalists, can give them a little of what they want maybe they'll also get a little of what they need.


At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger MW said...

Yeah, the concept can be hokey, but if done very well, even cynical viewers can be accepting of this practice. Granted, this is CBS using their own journalists to promote one of their own TV dramas, and I'm not even sure if "Jericho"'s a good show, but if we can set those issues aside for a moment, this method of drawing viewers can have a lot of merit.

For one thing, this could give journalists a chance to report on subjects they're interested in but rarely are able to explore. Second, popular entertainment can do a remarkable job of drawing attention to obscure subjects, but it also has a bad habit of disseminating false information. Think of "JFK" - when that film came out in 1991, the Kennedy assassination was suddenly a very popular topic. Unfortunately, the film was also
poorly researched. Hollywood isn't held to the same standards of accuracy, and you could argue that allowing journalists to do segments like these will prevent some viewers from extrapolating the wrong information from what they've seen.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger EJW said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger EJW said...

I think its a valid tactic for news programs to use other programming to draw in viewers. Viewership is so low as it is. While CBS is doing the reverse by using the news to attract viewers to their drama--I'm not conviced this is a bad technique.

I remember watching ER when I was younger and the local news would often do a health segment pertaining to some disease that was featured on the show that night. I know I watched! I agree with HAW, if you can draw viewers in with these stories, maybe they will stay to watch the other stuff.


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