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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

End of an era

The wall-to-wall coverage of the death and life of Ted Kennedy is now over. I strongly suspect the slickly produced cable TV "tributes" to Michael Jackson will once more proliferate like weeds -- while the discussion of Kennedy, who he was and what he stood for, will slide back to the talking (or shouting) head tables.

And I also strongly suspect that as with Kennedy himself, we will never see the equal again -- in terms of non-stop coverage and interest. We have seen the future of media coverage -- and it doesn't involve dead tree news operations or endless hours of obvious chitchat waiting for people to do what they are expected to do. (Or not do, for those of you old enough to remember Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald.)

I spent a week away from Boston -- close enough to plunk down $2 or more for a daily Boston Globe. I certainly saw snippets of the non-stop coverage provided by the local TV outlets.

I commend them for their commitment to the old media and what it does best. But that doesn't mean I soaked it all in.

Armed with an iPhone (and an occasional sneak peek at a laptop) I got by just fine on boston.com, nytimes.com and yes, Facebook and Twitter. Live blogging during the procession to Boston, the time in repose at the John F. Kennedy Library and even the funeral gave me all I needed -- or wanted -- to know. It helps to have reporters as Facebook friends who can actually offer solid reports in 140 characters.

In fact, the only time I sat in front of the TV was for the eulogies, including the moving tribute to his father from Edward M. Kennedy Jr. that is destined to become part of the political folklore. But if I hadn't sat there, I could have always watched it through streaming video or on YouTube.

The death of the state's senior senator is a watershed in Massachusetts' political life. And it is also one for its media life. But for the media the problem is compounded by the dilemma no one has yet figured out how to solve -- how to monetize the new way of doing the news.

When the numbers come in, I suspect the strong TV ratings will be skewed to the 60-plus demographic. Not the folks these broadcasters want for the limited commercials they can sell to earn back a piece of the tremendous amounts of cash spent to hire "analysts" and bring high price talent in on overtime.

And while I am sure boston.com's numbers have and will continue to soar as the official paper of record on the life and death of Ted Kennedy, they face the usual problem that clicks aren't the same as hands on paper when it comes to selling advertising.

But when a diehard old media type like me is ready to cross the line to the brave new world, the problem runs even deeper than that. I'm not ready to chuck the hard copy (unless they want to charge me for online access too). But I got by quite well, thank you, without picking up a skinny collection of typeset words for a week.

And if that doesn't send chills down the backs of media executives, I don't know what will.

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