Egypt and Cable TV's Sputnik Moment

Una and I have been keeping our eyes on the unfolding story of the protests in Egypt--we hope that the situation there doesn't get out of hand, and that the outcome is more freedom and tolerance, rather than a return to Mubarak's 30-year-old dictatorship or a descent into Muslim fundamentalism.

We listened to NPR on Friday until they started to repeat themselves, then went home and started reading what we could find on the Net. I ended up following several Al Jazeera reporters' Twitter feeds.

This morning I saw a few choice paragraphs from Doc Searls, writing on Al Jazeera's coverage of the protests in Egypt.

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Writes Salon, “If you’re watching Al Jazeera, you’re seeing uninterrupted live video of the demonstrations, along with reporting from people actually on the scene, and not “analysis” from people in a studio. The cops were threatening to knock down the door of one of its reporters minutes ago. Fox has moved on to anchor babies. CNN reports that the ruling party building is on fire, but Al Jazeera is showing the fire live.”

In fact six Al Jazeera journalists are now being detained (I just learned). That kind of thing happens when your news organization is actually involved in a mess like this. CNN used to be that kind of organization, but has been in decline for years, along with other U.S. network news organizations. As Jeff [Jarvis] says, “What the Gulf War was to CNN, the people’s revolutions of the Middle East are to Al Jazeera English. But in the U.S., in a sad vestige of the era of Freedom Fries, hardly anyone can watch the channel on cable TV.”

And that’s a Good Thing, because cable is mostly shit in a pipe, sphinctered through a “set top box” that’s actually a computer crippled in ways that maximize control by the cable company and minimize choice for the user. Fifteen years ago, the promise of TV was “five hundred channels”. We have that now, but we also have billions of sources — not just “channels” — over the Net. Cream rises to the top, and right now that cream is Al Jazeera and the top is a hand-held device.

Amen to that. Una and I haven't used television as our source of news for at least five years now, and we finally just dropped off our old TV at the electronic waste recycling center. Our current news gathering devises are our laptops and radios tuned to the local NPR affiliates. When we want to watch something on a big screen we stare at a widescreen LCD computer monitor plugged into an old Mac Mini. And because we live in Southern Cali we also have a couple of wind-up disaster radios, just because you never know.

Broadcast and print media certainly isn't dead--I'm a lifelong NPR listener and financial supporter and I'd subscribe to a newspaper again if I could pay for an electronic-only subscription. ... Oops, just checked and saw that LA Times now has exactly that. Guess it's time to put my money where my mouth is. But I won't be paying for cable TV...