The News Game
Previous parts in this series:
Last week, Part 5:
In Part 5 I referred you to a non-fiction book about the history of science fiction in which some of E. C. Tubb's work called "melodramatic."
Here in Part 6, we're going to extend the reasoning laid down in Part 4 and examine how the News Game has changed over decades (and why) -- which could indicate what it will be in another decade or two.
We also (as writers who want to stay in print) have to gain a grasp of the connection between non-fiction and fiction -- between News and TV Series -- and what Marketing has to do with that connection.
Let's start with Name Calling as a writer's tool. "Melodramatic" is a Name that Romance is often "Called" so it didn't surprise me that E. C. Tubb gained that epithet for what is essentially pure male-action-adventure writing. His work is built on Relationship, and dips into Romance (he does great Hunks).
The discussion of Name Calling here extends the discussion in the series on writing Dialogue,
The most popular post in the Dialogue series is How To Write Liar Dialogue, and in a way Name Calling belongs there.
Name Calling is a useful tool for giving a character depth without sketching an entire life history. It adds "color" to a characterization. It's a great way to make a minor character hated by the reader so the death is a triumph.
So why is it that "Name Calling" tags a character as worthy of a messy death?
"Name Calling" is revealing your own personal opinion, ramming your opinion down someone else's throat. Neither the label nor the tone of voice explains or reveals anything about the object discussed, but only about the speaker.
That's why "Name Calling" doesn't "work."
The objective is to harm the other, but the result is harm to the self.
Name Calling is an aggressive act. It's a great tool to increase the pacing and action-element in a scene. Think of the bar scene where gamblers sit around a table. One calls another "cheater" -- boom, bar-fight.
When you "call" someone a "name" (or categorize or classify them together with others who share one of their traits), you are revealing your opinion, which says a whole lot about who you are and nothing at all about who the other person is.
The statement the Name Caller makes about him/herself (regardless of what "name" is "called," or who is so labeled) is, "I am a person of very weak character, and I hate myself because of that, so I resent the fact that you are not weaker than I am so that I don't have to work to get stronger. I am going to destroy you."
It doesn't matter if the Name being Called is a prestigious label or a derogatory one. The act of "Calling" reveals all. This is an application of the writing rule: Show, Don't Tell. You don't tell the reader that this character is weak. You give the character a line of dialogue that reveals all.
Putting someone on a pedestal above you by Naming them something prestigious reveals just how little self-esteem you have.
As a Dialogue Technique, Name Calling is fabulously effective for communicating to the reader that the character doing the "calling" is in a peak emotional state (discussed in previous parts of this series on Marketing).
That peak emotional state is so very treasured by Public Relations professionals for a reason.
And that reason explains the connection between TV News and TV Fiction Series (and Reality Shows also).
As explained in previous parts of this series, the state Advertisers treasure is the one in which emotion supplants rational thought as the driver of actions.
The act of plastering a category-label on another person is done in this activated emotional state so you don't have to think. Name Calling substitutes for the hard work of evaluating all the disparate traits that make this other person unique.
Name Calling is a technique for denuding a person of individuality.
Name Calling is a technique for creating a human "herd."
For more on Public Relations and Herd Creation as the goal of Advertising, see the previous entries in this series listed at the top of this post.
Name Calling -- real, serious, professional Name Calling -- is a complex technique, and has been reduced to a mathematical formula by Advertisers.
Professional Name Calling may turn out to be the source of our problem with the prestige level of Romance and the HEA.
It is possible that Romance has been the victim in a PR campaign -- or possibly we're just collateral damage.
In Part 5 of Marketing Fiction In A Changing World, I did note in the discussion of E. C. Tubb's DUMAREST OF TERRA series that Tubb gives us an example of how to use words with precision and variety -- a lesson in why a writer must develop a massive vocabulary. Choosing the exact word for what you must say lets you say it more succinctly - and that increases the "pacing." Tubb is a writer to study for this technique.
The Dumarest Series is erudite, deeply philosophical, and precisely focused on today's hotest thematic topics -- yet it is pure Action-Adventure and textbook Romance writing. Tubb uses Theme exactly as I have explained in the posts with THEME in the title.
Tubb does everything I've explained, all of these techniques flawlessly executed simultaneously -- and makes it look effortless.
And yet, the historical work on the history of Science Fiction that I pointed you to in Part 5 of this series, written by those who should know better, "calls" E. C. Tubb's work "melodramatic."
Yes, name calling in non-fiction.
Why is "melodramatic" a name that's being called?
It's just a word. It's a technical term for a specific genre of stage play.
Oh, there's a lot of reasons to regard this label as a name being called.
If we can understand the nuances of what's going on with this, we may be able to figure out where the opprobrium laving the HEA is coming from. If we can figure the origin of that opprobrium, we may be able to fix that problem.
An adjective like "melodramatic" refers to a quality which is only present subjectively.
The usage of Melodrama to refer to Science Fiction and Romance has changed the meaning of the word Melodrama over time.
In the mid-20th Century, the Merriam-Webster definition was "...emotional in a way that is very extreme or exaggerated : extremely dramatic or emotional..." held true.
The word was used to refer to an "extreme" or "exaggerated" fictional situation - a caricature of reality.
The more modern Urban Dictionary says:
The state of being overly emotional - therefore often in a situation that does not warrant such a strong reaction.
Can you see the subjective judgment components of the term Melodrama?
What is "extreme?" -- well, that's your opinion, and might not be mine.
What is "exaggerated" to you may seem in correct proportion to me, or even understated.
What is "overly" emotional? What exact situation does in fact warrant 100% response?
Should responses be metered by degrees of emotion driving them?
Remember, we're discussing "degrees of emotion" in the context of PR, and Parts 3, 4, and 5 of this series of posts.
This is all about Advertising which is the science of arousing emotion to a peak high enough to get humans to form a herd and follow the leader to buy a product (such as your book, for example) -- regardless of whether the herd is rushing to self-destruction (paying a lot for a badly crafted book).
PR (Public Relations) is the mathematical science of creating human herds and then gaining power over the herd's stampede. Advertising is the main tool of PR. Once you understand what's behind Advertising, you become immune to the herd-joining impetus of the emotions advertisers try to whip up.
Here's an article that gives you a "professional" slant on emotional content used to increase visitor response to a website:
So where emotion is involved, what does it mean "overly emotional?"
Where that borderline between over and under is, depends on who you are and what else you've experienced.
Imagine two characters arguing about whether the argument two other characters are having is "melodramatic" or not. As an exercise, write the argument the two characters overhear, and write their elevator conversation as one calls the argument melodramatic and the other says it's not melodramatic.
Now review Part 4 in this series where we ended off discussing how Hard News used to omit any hint of opinion, and carefully reveal the editorial policy whereby they chose "important" stories and ignored others.
In that kind of a Hard News organization, a JOURNALIST can't use the word Melodramatic -- except when quoting someone.
The word melodramatic itself is commentary -- and Hard News is factual and only factual. There are many such words that Hard News must avoid. Interestingly, English provides many alternative ways to convey facts without ladling on opinion.
So there are a hundred little tricks of the trade journalists used to use to keep all hint of opinion out of News Reports: word choice, syntax, tone of voice, and juxtaposition of topics are only a few.
Another characteristic of Old Fashioned Hard News was that, while every outlet had an editorial slant (clearly delineated in editorials and never hinted at in News items), and each outlet selected things to report on according to their slant, they did not CRAFT A NARRATIVE.
Today, TV News (and most other media outlets) blatantly admits (via TV anchors) that they omit any item that "does not fit the narrative" being crafted, and they do those omissions merely to justify their editorial slant -- no matter how much hypocrasy oozes through the cracks. They see nothing wrong with that because it's The News Game -- it's essential to the business model of TV News to create a "narrative."
The very definition of News has changed, just as the definition of words such as Melodrama has changed.
This discussion in Part 6 of Marketing is about where that change came from, why it happened, and what that means for the fiction-delivery-system into which you are marketing your novel.
Very few people channel-surf News programs and do relentless contrast/compare studies to sift out the few real Hard News Facts buried amidst the torrent of opinion.
Most people don't understand the reasons the use of the word Melodramatic disqualifies a piece as a News Report.
Most people have no idea there is a Narrative being "sold" (via precise mathematical PR techniques). And in fact, if you told them, they'd consider you a bit daft, or maybe a flat-out liar.
In Part 3 of this Marketing Fiction series, we discussed the movie Anchorman 2, and most especially the PR campaign that surrounded it's debut.
OK, it's a funny movie -- but it's about the News Game. If you're going to set a novel amidst The News Game, you must understand the game, and you must understand how very little of that game your readers believe exists.
Here's a quote that turned up on twitter from poster TheBlackBoard:
"Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious."
Anchorman 2 may be an example of that principle.
In the SAVE THE CAT! trilogy of books on screenwriting, Blake Snyder makes the point (emphatically) that you must, at all costs, KEEP THE PRESS OUT OF THE PLOT.
When you bring in news stories, your plot explodes in your face, your theme goes out the window, and your project flops...unless you really know what you're doing.
So that's another objective we're pursuing here. We have to really know what we're doing when trying to sell the HEA to readers who live in a HFN world portrayed on TV News as if HFN were the only reality.
So, we're looking at how the News Game has changed (and why), and we're looking at the audience perception of that Game.
Once you have both of these firmly in mind, you can use Press Conferences and Newspaper Items as plot-points in a way that viewers of TV News who think that news is "reality" can accept and believe.
So changes in Hard News on TV have happened in lockstep with changes in Fiction.
The reason can be seen as PR.
Public Relations software, Google tracking, all in service to Advertising can measure audience size, composition, and emotional response to a TV News or Series segment by segment, even minute by minute. The News item or "Act" of the TV Series exists to 'set up' the audience's emotional pitch for the run of advertising that comes next.
Have you noticed how many more ads, more products, are pitched between segments of content than was the case 10 or 20 years ago? Have you noticed how the runs of ads are as long, or longer, than the content-segments? Have you noticed how the length of the ad-runs differs from hour to hour and day to day around the week? Have you thought out the reasons for all this? Writers need to understand. Others can ignore it all.
This new PR science is called "metrics." All TV Network content choices pivot on "the metrics."
Driving that PR push to measure and quantify every aspect of the eyeballs attracted and held by the content-segments, is profit.
The TV metrics' objective is to control which eyeballs are present for which commercials. That's the opposite of online advertising which aims to choose the commercials to suit the eyeballs preferences.
PR "metrics" is the business-model shift that caused a shift in content in broadcast and cable TV.
The shift in content is easiest to see in News -- but is also visible in fiction.
This business model shift in TV News is largely attributable to the advent of the Internet -- but more broadly, to technology, computers, data-mining. You all know the NSA problem -- Big Brother Is Watching You out of your TV set, whether you're hooked to broadcast, cable or internet streaming.
Cable became popular and brought us the giant, world-girdling news gathering and delivering organization CNN (Cable News Network).
Cable was advertising driven (PR) but also subscription driven as you couldn't get it over broadcast airwaves. You had to have cable, and that's a subscription fee. In some cases, Government had to force cable to carry local broadcast channels.
Cable still operates on this antiquated business model which is why it's collapsing.
Cable charges subscribers a FEE for a BUNDLE OF CHANNELS (most of which you don't want). They make you pay for other people's taste.
That's why, for example, Fox Business Network (FBN) is bundled by Cox Cable (in the Southwest) with the Sports Channels. FBN is a non-lucrative item to carry -- very VERY small audience. Stuffy, abstract, numbers-strewn, full of abbreviations nobody understands and about nothing of any moment to most people. But almost every single household lives and breathes SPORTS. So the bundle taken together is profitable.
CNBC is another cable Financial News channel and is in the general-tier subscription (Bloomberg is another). CNBC is not a lot more entertaining than FBN but is bought by the Cable provider in a bundle from CNN which everyone wants.
Now, it is true that the Financial Markets Coverage is all about gambling, aggression, swagger, bluffing, playing chicken over shorted stocks, so the appeal to Sports fans is obvious. Most professional investors are sports fans, or pretend to be for professional reasons -- you have to have something to make small talk about with strangers.
The Cable business model is to sign up subscribers who pay a monthly fee -- then go to channels and buy content to deliver to the subscribers, all wrapped around advertising.
The Cable company has a department that markets TIME (between show segments) to advertisers. Cable is a middle-man operation. They get paid by subscribers and by advertisers who want glued-to-the-screen-eyeballs, and they buy and operate equipment and Content with the money they collect with hopefully some profit left over.
With the Internet growing, people are "cutting the cord" to Cable -- just subscribing to the feeds they actually want. That's why your Cable bill keeps going up -- fewer people subscribing means less income to spend delivering the same (bloated) number of channels. Of course, taxes are adding to Cable bills, too.
Another reason Cable bills are going up is DVRs. People time-shift, and skip commercials, so commercial time is worth less because there are fewer eyeballs being delivered to the advertiser. Cable operator gets less per commercial, but still has to pay for the program content -- so they stuff in more ads.
Cable advertising metrics show a waning effect -- in the 2012 Elections, vast amounts of money went to Cable ads but barely budged the needle in most races. People skip commercials, audiences are smaller. PR formulae are being adjusted.
As writers, you followed carefully the Auction of Spectrum by the US Government a few years ago where they mandated the shift from analog to digital (that forced people to buy new TV sets or $50 set top boxes). The conversation to spiffy new flat-screen (or 3-D) TV's in digital is almost complete. I own an analog TV still, but never turn it on!
The spectrum auction re-allocated spectrum so we can have LTE phone-data service for smartphones. It reserved some spectrum for Emergency Services. It totally changed the foundations upon which TV signal delivery has been built -- and as a result, as people adjust their habits, Cable's business is less and less profitable.
And Advertising Firms are going NUTS! PR still works, but their business model doesn't!
A new generation of Advertising Executives are conquering this problem. Google leading the pack. The new generation of ad-execs grew up on a world dominated by Google.
Internet Advertising is beginning to work, thanks to Google's "tracking cookies" that lets them sell your eyeballs to advertisers selling something you might be interested in. It doesn't work yet, though. They keep trying to sell me what I bought last week and so don't need anymore. They need better spies. They are inventing them.
With Cable came hundreds of channels -- with DIGITAL and INTERNET came thousand and thousands more channels, websites, blogs, YouTube, all kinds of ways to spend the little time you have to acquire information you need, and entertainment your frayed nerves absolutely demand.
I've noted on this blog how fragmented the USA has become -- nobody watches any one thing. About a third of the country's 320 million watch the Superbowl.
This fragmentation of the market works against profitability -- but in favor of the Indie market.
With streaming, on a Roku or Apple TV, or other device, you have access to Vimeo, Netflix, other movie deliveries, Amazon Prime with TV shows -- more hours than anyone can possibly watch.
If you track the rise of this fragmentation against the rise in the number of commercials between content-segments, against the longer advertising-runs vs shorter content segments, you find something very interesting.
As advertisers have become more desperate, content-segments have changed the nature of their content.
This is evident in TV Series Fiction, yes, but much harder to spot.
It's most clear in the TV News.
As advertisers have become more desperate for glued eyeballs, TV News has become more "narrative driven" and content has changed.
How exactly has content changed?
Where once opinion was prohibited, now it is required to be salted into Hard News.
Where once narrative was prohibited, now it is the only thing allowed.
Where once name-calling was prohibited, it is now reported on by other networks.
Where once mention of the existence of another network was prohibited, it is now THE breaking news story of the day that this anchor said that nasty about another anchor on a third network.
It isn't enough that Anchors yell at Guests who yell back, everyone talking at once, on opinion or analysis shows -- they yell at anchors on other networks!
Where once the Lead Story Of The Day would be something you needed to know to figure out what to DO to avoid harm to you and your family, now the Lead Story is some bit of local-news gossip.
What's gossip? Oh, that is another study that belongs in the Dialogue series.
Essentially, gossip is something of personal interest woven of emotional dynamics.
Today National News And Commentary shows focus on traffic accidents, road rage, mentally disturbed people shooting children, rape and other violent crime, and the subsequent court cases.
These are "reality show" drama topics popularized by Oprah Winfrey, but they are local gossip and belong in local newspapers aimed at the people with a personal connection to those involved (such as the Apartment Building Fire on the block behind your house - what happened? Who's responsible? Who was killed? That matters if you know the people -- otherwise it doesn't.)
Why are the 20 minutes you have to discover World Events you must know about (to plan your next vacation; to know why you couldn't get a call through to Europe) now occupied by local gossip, oblitterating the information you need?
Maybe it is a political conspiracy, but "never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." Or perhaps by profit motives.
Now, as a writer, I'm all for PROFIT.
But Cable profits are on the decline.
What's really going on?
The same thing has happened to TV News as has happened in Book Publishing under the impact of technology.
As noted in a previous part of this series on Marketing, TV News, back in the day when it was news rather than gossip, was not a profitable department of a broadcast network.
Networks ran News Departments (and corporations owned Newspapers or Wire Services) for the prestige of it. To get prestige, you had to deliver real facts, first and devoid of opinion.
Just as big publishers were owned by bigger businesses for the prestige of it, and therefore could publish unprofitable but "important" books, Networks owned News departments and lost money but delivered Hard News.
Neither big corporation looking for a tax write-off cared whether anyone watched or read or paid any attention. The few who did pay attention awarded them Pulitzer Prizes, etc.
The information feed to "the public" (e.g. the audience of a TV News show) was a by-product of the operation, not the point of it.
Then came Pac-Man Publishing where publishers ate each other, and now audience-fragmentation is weakening all Cable companies.
Both these trends were caused by technology -- innovations coming in waves of 20-year-duration.
The not-for-profit publishing operations suddenly had to turn a profit -- Accounting Department Ruled All Decisions.
Publishers were taken over by "the bean counters" -- and where there used to be indepedent acquisitions editors who chose books to publish, suddenly those same people had to take a book proposal "to committee" (marketers, cover artists, PR department) who would have the final say on whether a book was published.
The Editor would later be reviewed for profitable choices, and could lose a job on the basis of not making as much money for the company as the editor in the adjacent cubicle.
And TV News operations had to go from delivering information to making a profit because the TV Series fiction wasn't making as much profit (because of falling audience numbers).
Not only that, but the PR science of "metrics" could now measure which news stories kept the most eyeballs glued to the commercials. (I know it sounds ridiculous; but it is really happening.) It's not enough to make a profit; you must make the most profit.
Advertisers pay for your "free" TV News, and it's their metrics that determine what is or is not News.
TV News isn't just on TV. Check Yahoo News, AP, CNN, NBC, FOX, New York Times, any source you want -- correlate with the concurrent TV news -- same items handled the same way, only slightly different slants, and sometimes radically different narratives.
They call it the 24-Hour-News-Cycle -- and a number of Anchors have used those words with tension in their voices, with scorn and even derision (yes, I'm evaluating).
Note how there's an ad running before videos, popups and pop-unders evade your blockers. The content of those news stories is chosen according to the responses to those ads.
The PR principle to remember when duplicating this research is that the "News" Stories with the highest emotional pitch (tragedy, pathos, horror, The Injustice Of It All, Victim-hood, etc) get the most responses to the advertising.
You'll see this with the Healthcare Law coverage -- the focus will be on the joy of individuals who have been relieved of an injustice, and the utter hopelessness of victims who have become victims of an injustice.
Watch how that coverage unfolds into the next Election - watch the emotional content.
The reason that statistics, facts, figures and even reality don't count, and just don't make the News, is that tragedy, pathos, horror, injustice stir audiences emotionally, thus cutting critical thinking out of their motivations -- right before a commercial run.
This shift in the relationship between Prestige and Profit has been going on for centuries -- since Guttenberg, actually.
The Aristocracy were Patrons of the Arts (not Patrons of News! That was delivered by the Indie Writers called Bards -- some of whom had Patrons!) for prestige not profit. With an Aristocracy dominant, you see the rise of Rumor as the main source of information.
Trace the fall of the Aristocracy over centuries against the rise of the concept "Commercial Art" which is what genre fiction is.
Now we have almost all Art (even News Reporting) done as Commercial Art. There is a minority practicing "Fine Art" -- but they have to find another way to earn a living besides writing.
Have we reached the end of this cycle? Will e-book, website art, etc. draw Patrons (e.g. advertisers can be regarded as Patrons who must be pleased by content produced)? If not, what happens at the end of this cycle? Will we break out of this Historical pattern of Prestige to Profit to Prestige to Profit?
If you look closely at TV/Webisode/IndieFilm as an industry, you can see how, at this Profit-dominated point in this cycle, we are seeing Prestige and Profit confused, mixed up with one another, the line blurring.
In the early 21st Century, we have a situation where the only prestige you can achieve is by amassing huge amounts of money. Power goes with that money -- but Prestige does not naturally come from fortune. Your current fiction audience is under a trip-hammer PR Messaging campaign to convince them that the only way to Prestige is Profit, and in fact Profit is Prestige (there's no difference).
Prestige is a word/concept being redefined, just as Melodrama has been redefined.
The central problem we've been tackling on this blog is the problem of the Prestige of the Romance Genre in general and the Science Fiction Romance (and Paranormal Romance genre) in particular. Why the general scorn for the HEA as a life-goal?
Perhaps we've been looking in the wrong direction for answers to that question. Perhaps we are collateral damage of the tug-of-war between Profit and Prestige. Romance SELLS gangbusters compared to other types of novels! We have a Profit Producing Business Model in the exploration of the HEA and how to achieve it in your own life. Is that why we lack Prestige?
If so, then our Prestige should rise as Profit becomes more prestigious?