"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Big Money, Little Clue


[Mary Tyler Moore]

Figuring that all we know about

journalism we learned from the

Mary Tyler Moore show,

late-movie showings of His Girl

Friday and our officemate's

repeated references to Network,

it's tough to cite the source

for the only rule we really try

to follow: In times of national

and/or personal tragedy,

raillery must wait 24 hours.

We probably made it up



[Plane Crash]

Still, in face of Flight 800, we

restrained the temptation to

crack a joke. MSNBC, on the

other hand, actually came off as




To say the joint venture between

Microsoft and NBC "took off"

would be tasteless, and cruel to

those unfortunate enough to have

taken a seat in front of the

televised disaster. At least we

can be reassured, in our own

flight from the wreckage, that

few would accuse us of shooting

down something that was already

so obviously dead in the water.


The dual calamities couldn't have

been better timed if Faye

Dunaway had scheduled them. Both

the airline and cable industries

rely on decades-old vehicles,

and both are badly in need of

public scrutiny. But do we

really have to watch?


Despite the scale of loss, the

flight #800 story didn't

actually amount to much news -

there's still very little new

to report, after all. And, far

from defining it as a contender,

MSNBC's on-the-minute coverage

of the event seemed

opportunistic and amateur - a

desperate attempt to steal some of

CNN's Challenger-wrought mettle. When

the fledging service was announced,

we expected a scrappy cross

between ESPN-2 and The Learning

Channel, with a healthy dose of

Redmond propaganda sweetening

the mix. So on Wednesday night,

we could only wonder why MSNBC

was covering plane crashes, not

Netscape crashes.


[The Site]

The Ziff-Davis-produced The Site

("the revolution will be

televised") chose, too, to

profit in other people's misery -

both the plane crash victims'

and ours. Thursday's program

included a Yahoo rep

demonstrating how to find

digitized photos of the disaster

(which he alternatively described

as "awful", "horrible", and

"sickening", but then kept

showing us more), and a staffer

giving a report of what he found on

alt.disaster.aviation after the

crash. Devoid of interpretation

or analysis, The Site only

served to heighten the

spectacular nature of the

tragedy - talking heads

describing what they saw on

their computer screens, which

largely consisted of first-hand

accounts of people watching CNN.


To those still awake after The

Site's Monday debut, this lack

of contextualization should come

as no surprise. The Monday show

focused on another crash: the

recent poor performance of tech

stocks. The Site's report didn't

speculate on why the market was

going down (the commentator seemed

quite smug to simply report that

it was, in fact, going down). Then

again, the program segment in and of

itself is a pretty clear

indication of why the market's

heading south.



Ziff "we're not a magazine

company putting out a television

show" Davis won't be alone in

its refashioning of the Computer

Chronicles with a budget. Wired,

which we also presume isn't

just a magazine company putting

out a television show, has

announced NetizenTV for MSNBC.

In a bold move, NetizenTV "will

showcase the perspectives of

those creating and leading The

New Economy and emerging Digital

Civilization." Equally bold is

IBM, which has already announced

Scan, a prime-time infomercial on

the intersection of technology

and culture. Of course, there's

plenty of of boldness to go

around - c|net will soon give us

The New Edge, which "looks at

how we use technology to

progress our lives and how it

will affect our future." If

half-inch video players and

satellite time were as cheap as

hollow-core desks and

remaindered copies of Web

Weaving, we'd be in on this

media reach-around ourselves.



But how many times in how many

different media can OMNI

magazine be reborn? The

Discovery Channel already made

the OMNI port to cable years ago

with Next Step, the show's

now-defunct status demonstrating

the danger of naming your television

show after a near-dead operating



We thought that it was the

no-hands mouse that provided an

"integrated media experience,"

but Bill Gates has promised that

MSNBC will. Some may be wary

when those producing programs

about the future are the same

tech-media conglomerates that

are bent on selling us their

future products, but we look

forward to the day when

Microsoft's new network merges

with Microsoft's last one, so

that MSN/GEnie is a desktop icon

in Windows NT. And what's to

stop Ziff-Davis from making

The Site not two sites but

one, seamlessly blending its TV

programming and webvertisement

for same? Once we've achieved

digital convergence, the content

may be the same old shit, but at

least we'll have one less crap

channel to click past.


It's no longer a matter of

whether or not the revolution

will be televised - though

there's some question as to its

ability to make it past a

V-chip. What remains most

salient is that the television

will not be revolutionized.

courtesy of Howard Beagle