Saturday, December 29, 2007

Don't stop now!

The expression “a mile wide and a foot deep”, once used to describe the Rio Grande, now appears even more appropriate when applied to much of today’s media.

One of the best (worst?) examples can be found on CBC television. George Stroumboulopoulos’ The Hour is a frantic, balls-to-the-wall, series of drive-by interviews in which one’s appetite is whetted, only to be subsequently denied any substance. In the two or three minutes allocated to each interview, he skips along the surface, never really engaging his guest, or for that matter, this viewer. It’s like having to survive on hors d'oeuvres when what one really craves is an honest-to-goodness, sit-down, four-course dinner.

And of course, the blogosphere is worse (yours truly excluded, of course). Toss out the web equivalent of a couple of catchy sound bites and then leave the reader to go away hungry, with only a small, very selective glimpse of the real story.

None of this is really new, as the supermarket-checkout scandal sheets have made an art of the superficial and meaningless, but I was always able to retreat into the pages of a good book to satisfy my meat-and-potatoes craving (keeping the food metaphor going).

Now even that is changing. In our family, Christmas is a time for books – lots of books – and this year I was pleased to receive a copy of In The Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars. Kevin Sites, the author, is a war correspondent who undertook this project for Yahoo! News, and he delivers a series of simply told and compelling human stories that we rarely get in the mainstream media coverage from these war zones. But, however fascinating the frequently horrific human dramas that he describes, I can't help but think I'm reading the Cliff Notes version of a planet at war, with layers of context and detail missing from the narrative. This is a very good book, but it would be an even better three books or four books.

As a person who's attention span actually exceeds that of a gnat, I sure hope this does not represent the shape of things to come in the publishing business.

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