Tuesday, March 13, 2007

My reaction to the USS New Orleans commissioning story

It's funny how some of my recent posts dovetail. Earlier this month I did a post on the media and the military. A small example of the media's general cluelessness with regard to military matters appeared in our local newspaper.

The USS New Orleans, a warship, was commissioned in New Orleans last Saturday. It marked the first time since World War II that a ship was built in its namesake city.

The article, in Monroe's The News Star, is here: http://www.thenewsstar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/

When I read the story one thing struck me: they never mentioned the ship's class! This is something that should have been mentioned. This isn't the fault of The News Star, because it was an Associated Press story (unless the name of the class was pulled for space reasons). The story mentioned the people of New Orleans, and such trivial — and relatively unimportant — details like its height and the fact that it has two gymnasiums. Missing, along with the class, was any mention of what the ship was for! They mentioned that it could carry 800 marines. That's nice, but is that trivia or is that its main function?

Enter Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_New_Orleans_%28LPD-18%29

The USS New Orleans (LPD-18) is a San Antonio class amphibious transport dock (also called a landing platform dock, which is why it has the designation LPD) is, according to Wikipedia, "a warship that embarks, transports, and lands elements of a landing force for expeditionary warfare missions". Basically, it transports marines to a combat area and deploys them in landing craft to the beaches. At the same time, it carries helicopters and/or tilt-rotor aircraft for close air support.

This technical stuff helps you understand what the ship does, and what the people of the United States spent its money on. Plus, it's interesting information (more interesting, to my mind, that it has two gymnasiums or is the length of "two French Quarter blocks). I had no idea, except for the comment about 800 marines, that the ship was something other than a guided missile cruiser or a resupply vessel.

It seemed to me that this little Associated Press article displayed exactly what is wrong with news today. Hard information is being replaced with soft news. More of the article was spent describing the effect on the city of New Orleans than on the ship itself, and what was mentioned about the ship was less informative than trivial. They didn't even mention that the vessel was actually launched over two years ago.

This reminded me of today's Non Sequitur comic (found at www.gocomics.com), which questions why soft news has replaced hard news:

As always, click on the picture to see a bigger version.


Michael said...

I like Wiley, and I'm certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing the media. Especially the broadcast media.

In this case, however, I sort of have to side with the TV news directors, loathesome slime that they are. They are, indeed, providing Americans with what they want to watch. The evidence lies in the existence of "News Hour" on PBS stations: if people really craved intelligent, in-depth reporting and analysis of the day's news, Jim Lehrer would be a star and "News Hour" would have great ratings.

If we really demanded hard news, we would get it.

Allan Goodall said...

If we really demanded hard news, we would get it.

That could well be true. I want to point out two things.

First, I've heard a lot of people around here complaining about the Anna Nicole Smith thing. They think the news has gone way overboard in covering this story. My father-in-law hadn't really heard of her until recently (though he's more of a hard news person anyway). People here at work have complained about it, and it's been made fun of on television and in comics. Certainly there is a group of people who think the media have gone too far. They may not be in the majority, but there certainly seem to be a fair number of them, more than you'd expect just for a single PBS station.

Second, people are sheep. They will sit and stare at the same channel over and over, even if the program isn't really what they are after. There's plenty of evidence of shows that do better when following another show. People won't go searching for stuff. They tend to stay in the same channels. The News Hour is also at an odd time, on a channel that isn't one of the "biggies". If you flip past it, it often comes across as erudite. That won't attract a lot of people. You can do hard news with flair, as the BBC has done.

You are quite probably right, if people wanted hard news they would get it. I just don't think the experiment has been properly handled. "Soft" news on television has been around for decades. It went softer for a reason (people wanted to hear about movie celebrities). I just think that people have changed since the early 60s. I think there's room for at least one 24 hour hard news station on the dial.

Or, I could be wrong and everyone who wants hard news is finding it elsewhere, on web sites, on blogs, and on Comedy Central.