Last night's Zócalo Public Square panel took up the question of what celebrity-driven news and websites like TMZ are doing to news reporting. And oddly enough there was a top producer from TMZ on the panel, which was fitting, according to New York Times Hollywood reporter Michael Cieply: TMZ is “one of the most intensely, classically reportorial organizations I’ve ever seen occur in this town." That doesn't mean he likes what is happening, even at the NYT. From Zócalo's report by Sarah Rothbard:
Web traffic especially is being driven by mentions of celebrity names rather than new stories; Cieply compared the vacant entertainment content posted online (even at his own paper) to “kudzu choking everything” on the sides of the road. A story that takes a reporter a week to report and write—even a story that breaks fresh news—is pushed down and out by soft celebrity interviews.
This isn’t new, said [Aaron] Brown. He recalled his worst day on television, over a decade ago, when he spent four hours reporting on the actor Robert Blake’s arrest for his wife’s murder—even though Blake at the time had no career to speak of and was known for just one TV role. Yet that program did huge numbers—and got a huge audience response.
The American public, said [Joe] Mathews, is misinformed on any number of things. Can their obsession with celebrity be used to correct misperceptions and incorrect information—or is the truth being crowded out?
“I think this huge multiplicity of outlets, as much as it’s chewing us up economically—God bless,” said Cieply. However, he’s scared by our contemporary assumption that the Internet makes all news of any importance available at all times. There’s a “huge vacuum” of incidents and information that’s not reported, and that no one’s even thinking about covering."
Cieply said that there is one line that has blurred that he finds troubling: People getting political and historical information from films and documentaries, often in real time (as with The Social Network or Zero Dark Thirty). Documentaries in particular create “the illusion that everything you’re seeing must be true” when they’re in fact manipulating the events they present onscreen every minute.
The panel included Cieply, TMZ co-executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere, former CNN anchor and Arizona State journalism professor Aaron Brown, and Zócalo editor Joe Mathews.
Zocalo photo: Aaron Salcido