Media: The New Abnormal

Jim McKairnes

Jim McKairnes.

Former CBS executive Jim McKairnes teaches and writes about Media. He lives in Los Angeles and Nashville. And he’s getting a little cranky.


And so it comes to this: Governance by tweet.

 Governance, diplomacy, communication, connection. Life itself in 140 characters or less. The New Abnormal. For a new year.

 At last, after what felt like an eternity, a battered 2016 moves on. And along with it so does reason itself. Or at least pretty much any sense of which side of the looking glass we’re on anymore from day to day. Is down up? Is left right?

The just-as-bruised media business – readership and revenue, TV viewing measurements, music and video piracy, franchise cinema, mergers and acquisitions and content and monetization, who’s in charge and whose competency should render them not – greets 2017, as it has greeted each new year for the past dozen or so, in a similar state of … let’s go with fluidity.

 (Working at one of the broadcast networks back in 2005, I once overheard our head of Business Affairs say to a staffer on the phone, with no small amount of forcefulness: “Well you better figure out how to do it, because we just announced to the press this morning that we are.”)

 When it comes to the very encased-in-rock concept at the foundation of media, that of mass communication, mass is relative these days. At least to advertisers and execs. And communication? [Eye-roll emoji here] Did anything that we read or heard in 2016, certainly during its latter half, actually constitute “the imparting or exchange of information or news”? Sure – and road-rage is all about having a conversation.

 One only has to ask Sarah Michelle Gellar or Steve Martin or Josh Groban, to name just three recent victims of mass communication, whose unfortunate forays onto Twitter further underscored New York Times Farhad Manjoo’s contention last year that “the internet is breaking the outrage meter.” (Of course, Gellar in particular could have avoided her crash by simply turning on the radio or phoning a friend – or going on Facebook! — to confirm Boy George’s apparent death before weighing in with her #RIP. But need and speed do tend to trump purpose and accuracy on the social-media landscape, don’t they?)

 Coming soon: More of the same. More deals and mergers, more print-media black-clouds, more big- and small-screen franchises, more furrowed brows over downloading, more nouns transformed into verbs, more outrage from a Twittered nation of modern-day Gladys Kravitzs, more low-risk-high-reward HMO-approaches to content that has turned Hollywood into one giant EMO (Entertainment Maintenance Organization). And of course new administrations for both the country and the many parts of the media that still fall under the purview of the FCC.

 Which begs the following – tweeted, of course – predictions for 2017.

  1. In the wake of FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s retirement, look 4 Net Neutrality 2 weaken & poor communities/ academia 2 suffer. #lifeintheslowlane
  2. Calling remakes re-imaginings will continue 2 fool few viewers and moviegoers who know it’s code for #FreshOufOfIdeasAndPeopleToExecuteThem
  1. TV-journalists will continue to misappropriate alloys. #SorryButAgesAreGoldenOnlyWhenTheyAreOver
  1. Broadcast networks that conclude show-promos with the tag “Watch tonight or on demand anytime!” continue to #TeachViewersHowNotToWatchThem
  1. Millenials will b 4given their entitlement when Boomers finally realize it was they who created the idea of viewing on demand #reapwhatyousow
  1. Thus, as the piracy battle wages, the smart money remains on Millenials, living as they do by the credo #WeWantWhatWeWantAndWeWantItNow (a verbatim quote from one of college students in class last year, offered with a So what of it? shrug)
  1. China continues 2 devour movie biz & films continue 2 leave us hungry for story and character an hour after leaving theaters #franchisefever
  1. The transition to digital journalism speeds up even as those in charge continue 2 show they don’t know how 2 spell nor care that they should* #highschool (*an AOL News headline from December misused the noun bazaar for the adjective bizarre – on its home-page)
  1. #informedignorance replaces #posttruth
  1. Because little in life can (or should) fit into 140 characters, the communication revolution will hasten cultural decline #CantSayWeWerentWa


The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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