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Too Much Caffeine at PBS Panel Breakfast

Oh, the fun to be had at the boisterous, expletive-laced panel hosted by PBS Tuesday morning at the Reuters building on Times Square. The panel, “News and Documentary Television for a Tabloid Culture” was held less than 12 hours after the News and Documentary Emmys at the Marriott Marquis. As I clutched my coffee, bleary-eyed, I was impressed to see Paula Kerger switched out of her sparkle and cream number, and was back to business as usual.

Despite losing its focus (Non-fiction television—is anybody watching?) fairly quickly, and having Carl Bernstein quoting endlessly from an article written in 1992, the panel was one of the most interesting, and spirited, mornings I have had in a long while.

Much has been blogged about the spat between Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff and Columbia Journalism School Prof Todd Gitlin, but if you missed it, I can give you a little recap: Gitlin started to make a point about something Bernstein said regarding Watergate, and Wolff jumped in to interrupt him. Gitlin then angrily accused Wolff of being rude, and told him to “keep quiet.” “It’s called a panel,” Wolff shot back. There was yelling about blowhards, graceless magazine journalists, and humorless college professors. And the audience was a-lovin’ it.

Wolff showed up in the mood to argue.  Earlier, when panelist Brook Gladstone (co-host and managing editor of NPR’s On the Media) started commenting on how journalism was more of a “conversation” today, Wolff ripped into her. He said snarkily that she was, essentially, just regurgitating what someone else had said to her.

Not knowing what his intention was, I think Wolff brought up an interesting point: There’s plenty of information available (and the BlackBerrys causing feedback with the audio system, to the dismay of the moderator, was a testament to that). But is the way media presents the information—especially now that there are so many more platforms on which to present the endless barrage of facts, figures and border fights—failing? How much does the average reader actually understand about what is going on in the world—or is it so difficult to digest that they are instead turning to glossy tabloids filled with drunk and/or hungry celebs?

In stepped Janice Min. As the editor of US Weekly, Min was quick to point out that, while she watches news on a regular basis, she often has trouble comprehending it, and believes the media doesn’t actually care about educating their audience as much as hearing themselves talk (see,  PBS panel). She was also quick to point out her magazine’s demographic was college educated 31-year-old women—and I squirmed uncomfortably in my seat and fiddled with my mini-corn muffin. It’s not like I don’t have a subscription to Harpers, Janice. And that other magazine with the fiction and the stuff about the world in it.
By Caroline Palmer