Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Watching the Watchers

OK, I'm going to warn you up front that the three stories I am about to write about illustrate things that make me angry about and sad for the state of America in the present times. There will be ranting.

First up tonight, we have a story by former Dateline correspondent John Hockenberry about what is wrong with network journalism. It's a long story that hits quite a few subjects, but it is well worth a read. ArsTechnica's commentary on the piece works as a shorter summary if the primary article is too long for you. The irony to me is that I desperately want to have a real news show to watch. I want reporters to state the objective facts of the stories, facts they have uncovered using research rather than reading press releases. I'm sick of politics being analyzed for its impact on the polls rather than its impact on the people. I'm sick of arguing talking heads being called news. I'm sick of local news shows where each half hour consists of fifteen minutes of commercials, ten minutes of teasers for stories picked up off the national wire, and five minutes of the same weather strung out over ten thirty second segments. Give me real news. I don't mind if you don't run the story within twenty seconds of it happening; I'd rather it take two days to prepare, be accurate, and give me enough context for the event to mean something. Apparently, that is too much to ask.

Next we have the news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show that music distributors are finally giving up on the so-called "Digital Rights Management." Soon we may actually be able to get music that works on and can be legally used with all our various devices. But video content producers are stubbornly hanging on to copy protection mechanisms. The game is all about keeping you and me, the consumers, locked into a single distribution channel so that the price can be manipulated. Upward.

Finally, Slashdot points out Dean Baker's analysis of this Washington Post story following up on Circuit City's draconian layoffs of their most experienced sales people early last year. The results, as usual, are predictable. Without their most knowledgeable and experienced sales people, sales drop and the company stock tanks. Suddenly, the executive bonuses that everyone knows are necessary to keep stellar corporate leadership such as this don't happen (or the stock options are worthless, for the same effect). So the company pays its executive VPs a million dollars each in "retention bonuses." As the analysis points out, that's a full years salary for thirty-five top-end salespeople.

Did you spot the common thread here? It seems that business ethics is an increasingly oxymoronic term in American corporate circles. What can we do about it? It's hard to avoid supporting big corporations. Almost everything we buy is produced by them. Small companies that become successful are bought by them so they can foster the illusion of growth. Working for a small company entails a certain amount of uncertainty and risk. Starting your own business is not an option for most people and entails a whole different level of risk. And the apparent best way to gain upward mobility is to get an MBA. It's enough to make one cynical...

No comments: