Blogger's Review: Connected Coast to Coast Embraces 'The Law of the Flow'
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Coming Wednesday, March 2:
MSNBC Finally Get's It: Suddenly, The Signs Are Evident
Blogger's Review: Connected Coast to Coast
Though not many bothered to take note, the potential impact of MSNBC’s Connected Coast to Coast was there for anyone to see - even before it went to air on its first broadcast day this past Tuesday. After an eight-broadcast, four-day premiere week, however, more and more media observers are beginning to take note: Connected Coast to Coast is a catalyst to a sea change in broadcast media news coverage.
Am I overstating C2C’s significance? Absolutely not, though it likely will not be proven to doubters until the next major event generates a furious blog pace that would otherwise have been ignored. Discussion and research of that event will no longer remain isolated within the blogosphere for weeks before broadcast coverage begins. If the blogs are hopping on an issue, Connected Coast to Coast will not be far behind, if at all. This will force other broadcast networks (and other MSNBC programming) to either concede the exclusive on a hot topic or follow suit and cover it on air. Connected Coast to Coast forces the issue and other networks will ignore the story at their own peril.
No one worth their news-weight in salt concedes an exclusive to anyone.
Connected Coast to Coast is surely (and finally) the concept that the founders never even knew they were thinking of when MS (Microsoft) & NBC joined hands for a little experiment called MSNBC. The concept was ahead of its time and MSNBC's ‘new twist’ was years ahead of the information-flow reality…until the sudden emergence of millions of blogs and bloggers finally brought that vision into focus. So, it is only appropriately fitting that MSNBC is the outlet to first embrace the paradigm that is the new law of information flow. Others will surely follow, as they must to survive.
But as of today, MSNBC holds a monopoly.
What about the show itself, concept and new ‘law’ aside? It is after all a cable television news/talk show. Simply observed as a news and commentary program, Connected Coast to Coast stands on its own merits. C2C (Sea to Sea?) avoids the pitfall that awaits all formats that include politically counterbalanced co-hosts (one left and one right): Crosstalk and irritating shouting matches amongst hosts and their guests with ‘victory’ measured by ‘The Decibel Factor’ (though it could be mused that MSNBC’s own Hardball accomplishes that task without the presence of a counterbalancing co-host).
Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley seem to work well together, and in the instances when both begin to speak at the same time, one of them always seems to graciously yield almost immediately, with the passionate discourse regarding CBS’s ‘Memogate’ notwithstanding. But, on such hot issues, that is to be expected. When it is the exception rather than the rule, very few would see that as a deciding factor to tune the show out and go elsewhere. It is only when it dominates a significant portion of the segments and topics that a debate-style program becomes unwatchable. A little contained fire now & then is good. Forest fires are bad.
It is clear from the first week that Monica Crowley will exit cable television news/talk hosting at a time and place of her own choosing. She was incredibly smooth and appeared comfortable and natural in her place. On topics regarding international relations, foreign policy and national security she comes across as noticeably confident and sure in her knowledge of facts. She also has a way of asking pointed questions without seeming confrontational or condescending. This is one of the reasons C2C manages to avoid the pitfall of ‘The Decibel Factor’.
One very surprising observation: Her voice sounds almost gentle and noticably smoother on television than radio. (Those who live in the New York City area may be familiar with the fact that she has hosted a weekend radio program for the past few years.) I thought that was an odd observation and I purposely looked away from the television several times. There is definitely a different quality to her voice on Connected Coast to Coast.
Ron Reagan is typically reviled and despised by conservatives, who make up arguably 50% of the potential viewing audience while certainly not 50% of MSNBC’s current viewing audience. This is initially considered to be a hindrance for a cable network and its new show looking to establish a wholly new (and larger) demographic. However, consider this feedback from a once reluctant viewer and conservative blogger:
“I was surprised at how fair Ron Reagan was. I am not used to seeing him be as open and receptive to conservative views ever.”
While that cannot be construed as an always-applicable blanket statement (for either host), it is likely comforting words to those who would have thought that Ron Reagan would serve as a conservative repellant. If there is a noticeable flaw he has, it is that he falls prey to guests by taking offhand remarks personally (witness the ‘fevered swamp’ exchanges with Hugh Hewitt regarding Hewitt’s take on the press during ‘Memogate’). Likely to prove rare, they are irritating to sit through nonetheless. He may not be quite as natural or comfortable as Monica Crowley at the moment, but to be fair, Ron Reagan has not been hosting a radio talk show for the past several years, either. He is a personality that serves as a magnet to the left-of-center pool of viewers who interpret his words and expressions of dissent as completely justified and rightly bold rather than smug, as right-of-center viewers do.
Technical presentation got low marks initially. The first day was replete with technical errors. Bad or missed graphic overlays, camera switches to the host not currently speaking, a lost satellite feed of Secretary of State Rice speaking upon return from Europe and other minor glitches that seemed to plague the entire broadcast. Everyone seemed to be on their own page and out of synch. Day 2 was significantly improved and did not even resemble the first day’s air. Each day after that was progressively better and consistency set in.
The graphics at the beginning of each segment are very good. They are kept visually simple and easy to read and have equally good quick, pertinent facts giving background on the topic due up. One graphic was a rolling-list that rolled in perfect sequence with the voice of the host reading it. While that sounds simple, when is the last time anyone has ever actually seen that pulled off? These graphics and the commendable technical improvement are things that keep adding up in Connected Coast to Coast’s favor, and it’s only had four days to mature.
Also off to a slow start was the integration (or lack of) of blog coverage and input. On the first day’s air, it was alarming to see Joe Trippi presenting the only blog references of the day.
First, the brief Trippi segment was the only real discussion of blogs, bloggers and buzzing blog content of the day. That did not bode well for a program that dared to be different. It nearly ignored the dominant topical discussion medium today.
Second, one of the three blogs Trippi noted was one of MSNBC’s own. The topic was definitely of interest (POW compensation for the 1991 Gulf War). The true value of bloggers is the simple fact that they are decidedly not part of the established media. To reference an MSNBC ‘blog’ directly from the MSNBC website is akin to calling an American POW tried in a North Vietnamese military court a ‘trial’. Technically speaking? Sure, it’s a ‘blog’. But it misses the point entirely.
Third, while Joe Trippi is indeed respected nearly universally in the online community and a definite blog authority, the former campaign manager of Howard Dean’s Right-of-Only-Kucinich presidential campaign is a less than wise choice in that role. He surely has a significant role, but that particular choice lends itself to far too much potential subjective criticism than the Connected Coast to Coast deserves, regardless of the blog choices he makes.
But Day 2 (and thereafter) was a different story entirely. Alison Stewart appeared on set next to a laptop computer (an important visual) several times during the broadcast, serving up more than ‘The Daily Three’. Yes, she highlighted interesting blogs of note, which is a good thing. But what is more important was that the hosts often tossed to her for blogs relevant to the particular topic at hand, from which she read partial entries. Alison Stewart was a nice change of pace from Joe Trippi. Joe is serious. Joe has a serious job. Alison Stewart does not bear the same burden and conveys a genuine energetic enthusiasm, amusement and interest in the blog stories she references. That energy is important and necessary.
If conservative bloggers are suspicious and wondering if MSNBC is really serious, they should take note that in one day (one day, people) LaShawn Barber was not just mentioned twice, but she was quoted twice. When is the last time that happened in a news broadcast in which she, a conservative black woman, was not a participant? Never. Stop and think about this. It happened on MSNBC.
Correction: It is happening on MSNBC.
The guests chosen for C2C are commendable and unique, especially on the conservative side of the house. It is natural that Hugh Hewitt was a guest twice in the first week, as he is definitely one of the leaders among conservative blogs. If there is one weakness to the guest selection, it would have to be on the liberal side of C2C. It really has nothing to do with the quality of the guest, but rather it has to do with the familiarity of the guests. For instance, Jeralyn Merritt appeared opposite Hugh Hewitt debating the CBS Memogate scandal. This observation has nothing to do with her authority on the topic or knowledge. It has to do with the fact that she is a regular circuit guest on various shows. There’s nothing new or different. I recognized her as soon as the camera captured her. Are there no liberal bloggers to choose from? It was also the same gentleman from the Brookings Institution that has been speaking for them for years now. Isn’t there a new face, a new thinker that can represent the liberal side of the house? But, again, they were both good guests. It seems that the conservative side is ably represented by some relatively new contributors.
From a blogger’s perspective, one of the best segments of the week had nothing to do with the ‘Topic of the Day’, but rather the ‘Topic of the Times’. It introduced two unfamiliar faces, but two very familiar names. In a segment that dealt with exactly what a blog is, what constitutes a good blog and good blogger, Erick Ericson of Redstate.org was a guest along with Robin Burk of Winds of Change. If you missed it, you should watch it here (courtesy of Redstate.org via Winds of Change). It was recorded origionally on a poor quality video tape, but it is worth your viewing. Robin Burk gives an unarguable definition of what constitutes a good blogger and a good blog post. All that from brand new faces…furthering my previous point.
The topic selection is smart and reflective of both major events in the news and major hot topics in the blogosphere. The two do not always coincide. That is what makes C2C so different. C2C does (and will) cover both.
C2C has decidedly and consciously charted a new course, one that will prove to be the drip-drip-drip through the dyke, ever increasing until the barrier is no more. The ‘Law of the Flow’ has been ratified (if not written) by the blogosphere. Control of the flow of information has just been decentralized. It was only a matter of time before it was recognized by one of the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ of the flow of information that there is nothing to be gained by desperately clinging to the old ways. It is not yet a matter of immediate survival, but it will be soon. I have suggested before that the last to adapt will be the first to disappear from the landscape.
On the other side of the coin, the first to adapt largely defines the new broadcast standard and stands to benefit the most from increased trust and viewership.
UPDATE: Being familiar with Monica Crowley's radio broadcasts, USMC_Vet suggested nearly a year and a half ago that she was a 'star on the rise' and should be aggressively persued as a cable news/commentary host, with the belief that her style and knowledge would translate well to television. On one hand, it is gratifying to see that my instincts were correct. On the other hand, it is at least possible in some way that this gratification skews my objectivity. I really don't think so, but maybe I should reserve that call to be made by others. I do not work in the television industry. However, I was a Program Director at a small market California television station for two years.
This experience totally destroyed my ability to 'watch' television. I can't. I have to analyze everything I see and hear, always vigilant for missed cues and fades to black, dropped feeds, cut-outs, bad lighting & make-up, misspelled text graphics, audio noise, voice tones...you name it. It's quite irritating, actually. Have you ever tried to read a news-crawl at the bottom of the screen and had to accept the fact that you are looking for typo's and not news?
I am probably the only human being on the planet that has observed that Monica Crowley's voice and speech has a different quility on television than on radio. Subtle differnces in tempo and inflection. No, I don't think I have lost my objectivity. But it would be a most welcome development if I had. Maybe then I could 'watch' TV again for the first time in nearly 12 years.
(The next post on this topic will discuss in greater detail [and beyond Connected Coast to Coast] why I believe that MSNBC really ‘gets it’ and why their stock is on the rise.)