The Tragic Twitterization of the News
Kurt Sutter quit Twitter this week.
In and of itself, that's not particularly newsworthy, but why he did is symptomatic of a problem that is undermining American society and threatening our democracy.
Sutter is the executive producer and showrunner of Sons of Anarchy on FX. He's also someone who says exactly what's on his mind, without much thinking. He is admittedly very self-reflective and publicly self-critical. Like most writers, mixing extreme ego with extreme neuroses. And he applies his analytical eye not just to his own work, but to the industry as a whole. These are all factors that make Sutter seem like someone who would be great fun to talk with at a party and also a consistently entertaining Twitterer.
But although thousands of fans of Sons of Anarchy follow Sutter for bits of information on the show's production and news about the upcoming season and cast, posting on Twitter can have a much broader reach than hanging out with fans at Comic-Con or a Harley Davidson enthusiast rally. (Which I'm sure has a non-square term that motorcycle clubs actually use.)
Through a proliferation of entertainment news media and the internet, there's both much more entertainment news coverage (from the vapid television of Access Hollywood and E! to the more detailed gossip at Deadline Hollywood and Gawker. The upside to this trend is the detailed analysis of critics at sites like Hitfix and NPR and a deeper focus on entertainment news from traditional sources like New York Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter.
And television series showrunners are not just writers and producers, but also the public voice for a show. And television shows are big business not just for the cast and crew, but the networks, advertisers and more. So the showrunner is effectively the CEO of each production. So the words of a television series showrunner are going to be read by people in the industry.
So when Sutter makes a controversial statement, such as alleging that the deal that AMC made with Lionsgate and Matthew Weiner for future seasons of Mad Men were forcing AMC to cut the budgets of its two other big shows, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Writer and Director Frank Darabont had recently left The Walking Dead surprisingly quickly and AMC was reported to be in talks with Sony for a smaller, less expensive final season of Breaking Bad which may have resulted in the studio shopping the best show on television around to other networks.
That's an opportunity to do some solid journalism, talk to sources at AMC and around the industry and work off of it to do some serious reporting.
And while not every outlet who picked up the "Sutter tweets wacky stuff" story did actual reporting on the underlying story, at least the Hollywood Reporter did. OK, they sensationalized the Twitter drama, but at least they reported on the actual news.
That alone may prove that the entertainment media is more diligent and less frivolous than the national 24 hour cable news networks.
As the most astute media critics working who share a network with stoner films and foulmouthed puppets, the Daily Show saw the trend:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
Instead of researching facts and analyzing policies to help citizens with independent analysis and judgment, the news media is happy to simply report what one side says and then report what the other side says. There's little attempt at analysis and little depth to the overall amount of reporting.
From economic issues like raising the debt ceiling and repealing the Bush tax cuts, to scientific issues like global climate change, the mainstream media seems to have little interest in pursuing truth, but rather simply reporting the existence of conflict.
This would be OK in the entertainment news, but it seems more prevalent in the reporting of national politics and policy than anywhere else, which can not serve the public interest.
See also: Myles McNutt, Antenna, The Rise and Fall of @Sutterink: Showrunners [Off] Twitter III