Howie Kurtz Chats It Up Again

Earlier today, Howard Kurtz held his weekly chat where he covered such topics as the media’s ability to decide what gets covered, his Facebook adventures, and the downsizing of newspapers. Some excerpts:

    Alexandria, Va.: What ever happened to the media’s role as Gatekeeper? You mentioned Paris Hilton’s ability to generate coverage, but the media can simply say “we’re not going to cover that.” When that happens, the microphone she uses for herself is removed. Of course, with the Internet, someone will always be able to put something out there. But the microphone that enables someone to push to a national level still resides primarly in the hands of the traditional media. I wish you would be more discerning of who you let have access to it.

    Howard Kurtz: You’re right, the media could just say no. But increasingly, that’s not happening. If CNN or Fox or MSNBC just blew off the story, they know that viewers would gravitate toward the channels that are pumping up the Paris melodrama. In fact, there’s a recent example of that. Fox and MSNBC went virtually wall to wall with the Anna Nicole Smith court hearings with that crying judge. CNN did not, providing only periodic updates, and got killed in the ratings. When cable goes wild over something, it tends to be covered on the network morning shows, sometimes even the network evening newscasts, and sometimes becomes enough of a crossover hit to get ample newspaper coverage.

    Facebook: I think the majority of post-college folks on Facebook don’t use it to interact with strangers, but rather to see what old friends are up to. True, some strangers may view your profile, but the privacy settings give you plenty of options to keep creepiness low.

    Howard Kurtz: I hsve a followup on my Facebook adventures in today’s column.

    Some younger folks also tell me they use Facebook solely to keep up with friends — that is, people they actually know — but there are other folks with 300 friends (not to mention 700 pictures of themselves). And as I report this morning, I’ve had 306 friend requests in the last two weeks, nearly all from people who don’t know me. And while many obviously know me through my newspaper and television work, only a fraction have sent me messages or otherwise attempted to communicate. Most seem just to want more notches on their Facebook belt.

    Baltimore: Re: The downsizing of newspaper staffs — there seems to be a “race to the bottom.” The Baltimore Sun, which a few decades back was called “The Little New York Times” when owned by the Abell family, has closed all its foreign bureaus and increasingly relies on copy from other Tribune papers. Yet the Tribune, as a corporation, routinely posts 20 percent profit margins. I think it is media consolidation that is killing the newspaper business.

    Howard Kurtz: Consolidation is a factor, but the Philadelphia Inquirer, which a local businessman recently bought from the old Knight Ridder chain, has also closed its remaining foreign bureaus. Big media companies are insisting on 20-percent-plus profit margins that would be unimaginable in most industries, but (and I’m not defending this) they are public companies that are pledged to maximize return for their stockholders. Just to clarify, the WP and NYT are also public companies that have to worry about their stock price, but families — the Grahams and the Sulzbergers — maintain a controlling interest in the voting stock.