State of the Media

Oprah, White House Correspondents and the Georgetown Public Library

May 3, 2010 — Georgetown — Last Saturday, while every White House correspondent in town was dusting off their tuxedo or getting a blow dry, there was Kitty Kelley, famed author of “Oprah: A Biography,” in the heart of Georgetown selling and signing her books for the benefit of the Georgetown/D.C. Public Library. We had interviewed her through the years when I was at ABC news and NBC News, and she was always considered controversial. Her ‘unauthorized’ biographies on the famous icons of our time — Jackie O, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, the Bushes — dished the dirt and then some (when it wasn’t necessarily as accepted), and sold millions and millions of copies. She has been interviewed by almost every major media outlet out there, including Larry King, Barbara Walters, GMA, The Today Show and 20/20 (when you meet her in person you understand why, she’s quite charming and gorgeous). When I asked her how the book was doing this time around, she kindly whispered, “It will be on the bestseller list tomorrow.” What does this have to do with the state of the media? Keep reading.

That evening, another icon, our President Barack Obama, showed NBC and the world who had the better writing team as he wowed the socks off of the 3,000 or so journalists, White House correspondents and their star-studded friends with self-deprecating jokes fit for, well, a President and for national broadcast. The guest comedian, Jay Leno, was having a bad hair day, totally scripted and clearly just off of the plane from Los Angeles. Can you say red-eye? He missed a beat or two. I’ve met him in person and he’s just one of the great performers of our time. It wasn’t his job to upstage the President. Obama quipped he was glad he was not following Jay Leno because we all know what happens to the act that follows Jay Leno. There was great laughter and it went on and on to great network fanfare.

What’s the official state of the media in 2010? Ad revenues are shrinking, news audiences are morphing, and people aren’t loyal to one news source any longer, according to Amy Mitchell of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, but a good joke or a steamy celebrity biography can still win an audience. Pew’s sobering report confirmed the inevitable: that 1) The notion of a primary news source is obsolete. 92 percent get news from multiple platforms, let alone news sources. 2) Old media still dominate online but that is changing. 3) Revenues are way, way down. Funding for real reporters has decreased dramatically with this loss. 4) Nobody knows where to go until we figure this all out. Basically in the news business it’s a free-for-all, especially now that news users are getting their news content from friends and social media sites. It’s a brave new world out there. Guess who dominated in revenues last year? Fox News!

Back to my chance meeting with Kitty. “How many interviews do you have lined up, Kitty?” I asked. (the book was released week before last) “We’ll see,” she said. The book was released on April 13, and though she has already been interviewed by the Today Show and Fox News, many other outlets, including ABC, Larry King, David Letterman and a host of others declined, due to their allegiance with Oprah. When you dis probably the most famous and enterprising black woman of our time, you are sure to make enemies and friends at the same time. And when you are exposing the ugly secrets of that specific media mogul, who, Kelley reports, is also one of the most controlling forces of our time and has some ugly secrets. According to Kelley, some of the major news media aren’t going to touch the subject. This is Oprah. “Did you know there are 23,000 websites on how to get on the Oprah show?” said Kelley. I bought the book. And the next day, there she was, just like she said, #2 on the New York Times bestseller list in the first two weeks of being released — regardless of network fanfare.

How does this relate to our current state of the media? Information and news are going to continue to be dispersed and where that news is coming from and going is an open field. And no matter how low you go, or how high you fly, if you play your cards right and the stars align you can hit pay dirt, make it on the bestseller list or, like President Obama’s White House correspondents speech, get 455,000 hits in one day on C-Span.

View the Pew Center report at www.stateofthemedia.org/2010.

Claire Sanders Swift is a broadcast journalist turned national media consultant. All Things Media is a monthly column. Contact claire@clairemedia.com with comments.

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