And Now Back to You, Skippy

What are blogs doing on cable news?

The past few days, I’ve been so wrapped up in trying to figure out whether or not TV makes you smarter that I haven’t had time to watch very much of it (which, depending on your point of view, must be either raising or lowering my IQ). But thanks to the eagle eye of Lost Remote’s Cory Bergman, I was able to catch this Daily Show segment from last Tuesday night, in which Jon Stewart eviscerates the cable news shows’ recent attempts to incorporate blog posts into their news coverage. The clips Stewart shows, from CNN’s Inside Blogs and MSNBC’s Connected Coast to Coast, hilariously demonstrate what should have been obvious to producers long before these shows were developed: Blogs make for deadly boring TV.

On Connected, which I reviewed back when it premiered in February (click here and scroll down), the only thing scarier than Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley’s fixed smiles (’cause they’re the nice dueling anchors, see?) is this sprightly injunction, repeated twice daily: “Let’s see what the bloggers have to say!” Translation: “Let’s see what the first blogger we found on Technorati has to inarticulately scribble—but let’s see it in 10-point type, on a muddy laptop screen filmed by a TV camera, while an anchorperson looms in the corner of the frame, reading aloud while scrolling down.” Other news segments, in which bloggers themselves are interviewed—their heads framed in tiny windows, embedded in a graphic of their own homepage—sometimes feature better commentary, but they combine, in Stewart’s words, “the visual pizzazz of a text file with the deep insight of a 90-second cable news segment.”

Trying to do justice to the blog world on TV is like (to quote either Frank Zappa, Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello, or any one of a dozen other possible sources) “dancing about architecture.” The two media just don’t mix—or rather, unfortunately for network execs, the mix only works one way. TV clips are common currency on the Web—see the above link to the Daily Show clip, via Lost Remote—but the lively interactivity of Web discourse is entirely lost on the TV screen. Looking at a filmed image of a blog post feels about as much like reading one as glancing at a dim photocopy of a 1972 Playboy centerfold feels like having sex.

Stewart also mentions the growing phenomenon of the “anchor blog”—forums for the networks’ hosts to tie up the loose ends of their on-air bloviations. I’d say more about these, but that would involve reading them. The point is, we don’t want Joe Scarborough or Keith Olbermann or Dan Abrams to be sitting around MSNBC headquarters blogging (if in fact they do write the blogs attributed to them). We want them to be preparing for the guests on their shows, checking the reporting on their stories, and generally acting like journalists. TV journalism can only hope to compete with the new media that threaten to eclipse it by remaining resolutely unhip and using the resources it does have—good visuals, professional reporters, and lots and lots of money—to tell it like it is.