Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. $12 for 12 weeks.
Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Biggest stories of 2014 didn't need traditional news outlets

Gaza, Ferguson, a casino elevator in New Jersey — this was the year that raw images and social media, not gatekeepers, drove the national conversation.

From photos posted on Twitter to bits of raw video shot on smartphones and surveillance cameras, media reached a tipping point this year in which the most important parts of the biggest stories came to us not in prepackaged formats of network and cable newscasts, front pages or even home pages, but in grainy, shocking bits and pieces of data. They often seemed to arrive out of nowhere to rip through our culture, leaving us agitated, polarized and often confused.

It didn't happen overnight or exactly on a 365-day calendar, but the media story of 2014 is the way changes in technology have led to a hyperdemocratization of news that might be more than we are prepared to handle as a society. It's certainly reached the point at which the journalistic profession can no longer reach any kind of consensus about standards for processing the flood...

Read more
WBFF apologizes for misleading edit on videotape of protest chant

WBFF (Fox45) apologized Monday night online and on-air for misleadingly editing and airing a video Sunday of a protest march in Washington to make it seem as if protesters were chanting “kill a cop.”

What the marchers were actually chanting in response to the lead of a Baltimore woman, Tawanda Jones, was “We won’t stop. We can’t stop ‘til killer cops are in cell blocks.”

That’s a very different meaning and representation of what Jones and the marchers were saying.

Jones appeared on the 5:30 p.m. Fox45 news, where anchorman Jeff Barnd apologized to her on behalf of the station.

Jones and the protesters in the edited video were part of a “Justice for All” rally last week called in reaction to the deaths of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

The Sinclair-owned Fox affiliate aired the misleading video in the wake of news of two New York City police officers being murdered by a gunman from Baltimore.

News and social-media reports surfaced Monday denouncing the...

Read more
The problem with Bill Cosby's new media strategy

I joined Howie Kurtz on "Media Buzz" Sunday to take a look at Team Cosby's new media strategy, which involves lawyers for the embattled comedian calling out CNN and others for what they say is bad journalism.

Will it work?

I say it will work almost as well as Cosby's previous strategy of lecturing reporters on how they should behave and then having his publicist call their bosses and try to get stories about rape allegations killed.

Check out the video from Media Buzz.

Read more
CBS delivers a winning telecast in Ravens' 25-13 loss to Texans

Watching the Ravens lose, 25-13, to the Houston Texans was brutal if you are a Baltimore fan. But blame the team, not CBS Sports, for the misery this time. The network delivered a first-rate telecast.

I admit wondering earlier in the season why CBS was going with two analysts on this crew in Steve Tasker and Steve Beuerlein joining play-by-play announcer Andrew Catalon in the booth. And maybe the fact is that they got better as the year wore on. But whatever the case, the trio was smooth, informed, engaged and energized pretty much from beginning to end Sunday.

And the direction was just as good, with quick, crisp replays on the field and focused crowd shots that captured the noise and enthusiasm in the stands.

The coordination between the folks in the production truck and the guys in the booth was as good as it gets in a regional telecast. It culminated in some outstanding close-up images late in the game of defensive lineman J.J. Watt’s bloody face between plays. He personally...

Read more
Top five TV dramas this year capture American life

I was never one of those critics who measured television against literature, theater, film or any of the other forms of entertainment and art that have traditionally been considered more serious or elevated.

In fact, for decades, I have been arguing about the importance of television in its own right as an enormous cultural force: the principal storyteller of American life, even in its silliest and most debased genres (like reality shows).

But as I joyously wallowed in the wealth of great TV drama this year, one thought kept flashing across the scoreboard of my brain: This is absolutely the stuff of the the Great American Novel that all those English department professors were talking about back in the late 1960s and early ’70s when I was studying literature.

The idea of the novel migrating to TV is not a new one. “The Wire,” to name one series, has been there and gone.

But I have never seen such complicated and profound aspects of American life so consistently, wisely and engagingly...

Read more
A brilliant byproduct of Sarah Koenig's storytelling in 'Serial'

Earlier today I wrote about my frustration and annoyance with the final episode of Sarah Koenig's "Serial." (Read that here.)

She promised journalism and instead ended the podcast series tap dancing like someone on methamphetamines - telling us first how she would feel about the young man convicted of the crime if she were a juror, then how she would feel about him as a "human being walking down the street next week" - whatever that might mean. But not as a journalist.

OK, fine. The series was still a triumph, as I said, in the way it made a moribund medium, the podcast, red hot - reminding us that great content is great content in any delivery platform or system.

For those who haven't been following, you should know that the weekly, non-fiction account of a Baltimore murder involving students at Woodlawn High School is the media hit of the fall. At the center of the series are Hae Min Lee, who went missing in 1999 and whose body was found a few weeks later in Leakin Park, and her...

Read more