Like all good media mavens, I've taken an interest in the firing of local investigative reporter Jim Polito by WGGB-TV Channel 40 last December. Part of my interest is personal, I used to go to WGGB quite a bit as both fill-in host and guest of The Dan Yorke Show and so I know some of the people involved personally. Also, Director Kathy Tobin was a frequent guest of ours when I used to do The Reporter's Roundtable starring Kateri Walsh on WHYN. New station owner John Gormally once emailed me inviting me to be a columnist for his publication BusinessWest. Somebody must have got to him though, he suddenly rescinded the offer without explanation.
None the less, I like BusinessWest. Unlike the business pages of the Springfield Newspapers, BusinessWest has a genuinely pro-business viewpoint. Somehow the Springfield Newspaper's business pages (before they shrunk to near non-existence) always read as if they were written by liberal Democrats who were ashamed that they were dirtying their hands in commerce. The BusinessWest editorials were the toughest and most uncompromising in the Valley (aside from my own) and they were an early and aggressive critic of the Albano Gang. When it was announced that Gormally was taking over WGGB last year, hopes rose high that a media watchdog over local government would evolve and that WGGB would become a true champion for the public interest.
The Polito affair has caused those hopes to fade. Jim Polito was the chief investigative reporter for WGGB, and I liked him from the start. I was really impressed when he was threatened in downtown Springfield's former Gus n' Paul's restaurant by Albano thug Anthony Ardolino and he had the balls to take Ardolino to court. No one else in the local mainstream media had really stood up to Anthony before. I later got to know Polito a little from seeing him around at political events. The last time I saw him to talk to was in downtown Northampton last summer. He was up there with some of his motorcycle friends and they were hanging out on the street when I passed by.
In a great article in The Valley Advocate on Polito's firing by Maureen Turner, there are statements made about Polito that clash with my remembrance of what Polito told me when we spoke. At the time the station transfer was just taking place, and Polito seemed very excited about the change. He was obviously unhappy with the way the station had been run under the previous owner, and expressed enthusiasm for working with Gormally. The Advocate article implies that there might have been some friction between Polito and Gormally going into the transfer, but if so I saw no evidence of it despite the fact that Polito was speaking about the station very frankly. The article also reports allegations that Polito spoke badly about Tobin, but he praised her to me that night and defended her when I told him that I thought that Tobin had a liberal bias. I never saw Polito again except briefly in a biker bar on Lake Congamond, but at the time I was drunk with a fuckbuddy and we didn't really talk.
I wasn't terribly upset when I heard that Polito was fired. With his talent and reputation I thought there'd be a bidding war among the other media outlets and that he'd quickly resurface somewhere else. While he has popped up in other venues, nothing really permanent or worthy of his talents has emerged.
Yet in a way he is lucky to be at loose ends. The broadcast media, like all media, is in the process of merging with the internet. The traditional TV news format, with all its artificiality, time constraints and phony star system is dying and good riddance. A new form of broadcast news is emerging, the video equivalent of the revolution in print media, with new ways modeled on citizen journalism challenging the traditional forms. Media revolutionary Jeff Jarvis wrote recently about how new technology, such as the latest generation of high-definition camera phones, are taking TV news into new frontiers:
The camera-phone allowed me to record moments without drawing attention to myself. At Google’s Davos party, I recorded 14 precious seconds of long-time White House aide David Gergen boogying on the dance floor.
As Henry Kissinger stood before a computer recording a video for YouTube, I stood next to him recording the event myself; I went unnoticed.
Of course, there are issues: Is any moment of our lives now fodder for broadcast? It’s sobering enough that Britons are tracked everywhere by CCTV cameras, but now you’ll be followed by camera-carrying citizens who could be journalists (but who, even if they’re not, can still broadcast you on YouTube). Life is on the record.
Another key change to journalism brought on by the mojo camera is a difference in how video is used in telling stories. I felt no need to produce a piece or write a story to surround those Davos clips. The snippet is sufficient. I can also see using such video clips as part of larger stories – they become moving and talking pictures. They become part of a multimedia narrative, now that journalists no longer need to pick one medium but can work in them all. In short, we’re not using cameras to make TV with all its trappings and orthodoxies. We’re just making video, video that’s good enough to tell a story.
In this new media world Jim Polito brings formidable resources. Should he, for example, decide to a launch a webpage around his own investigative reporting, that website would draw an automatic audience of considerable size. That audience could then be sold to advertisers. I hope he will consider such a route to prosperity and independence. He definitely has a bright future in new media if he wants to pursue it.
But future potential does not pay current bills, and the danger is that Polito will soon be lured away to some other market far from our Valley. If so, that would be unfortunate, because Polito has made a real investment of time and talent in this Valley, and it would be a shame if that was lost to another area. The controversy over Polito's firing will eventually be settled one way or another, but the media revolution in broadcasting in our Valley rages on. The only question is whether or not it will do so with or without the talents of Jim Polito.
Speaking of Jeff Jarvis, he is also offering some devastating poltical commentary lately on Barack Obama. His analysis of the stock Obama campaign speech suggests that the emperor has no clothes:
Listen to last night’s medley of his greatest hits: “Our time has come… Our movement is real… Change is coming to America… We are more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America… This time can be different…. Not this time. Not this year…. This time we have to seize the moment…. This fall, we owe the American people a real choice…. We have to choose between change and more of the same, we have to choose between looking backwards and looking forward. We have to choose between our future and our past…. We can do this… We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek…. Yes we can…. Yes we can….” Cue crowd chanting: “Yes we can…”
His supporters, including many New York friends of mine, buy his image and believe he is less political and that he is indeed different. I think he’s more political and his campaign is the greatest example of the selling of the president I’ve yet seen. To state it harshly, I say that relying on these stock phrases — believing that we are going to swallow empty oratory about “change” punctuated with chants of “yes we can” — is a cynical political act.
Psychoanalysis: A poem.
If you don't like the way I do it,
then do it yourself.
If you think I played it wrong,
then do it yourself.
If you think I should change this or that,
then do it yourself.
Shut up, do it yourself, post it and leave me alone.
I bare my soul.
They give me juice and a cookie.