The Digital Vast Wasteland

Every once in a while, I see a meme suggesting that demanding parents made kids better and more likely to act responsibly.  Maybe the media industry is feeling the effect of lack of thought leadership. 

My personal hero is a man named Newton Minnow. He had just become chair of the Federal Communications Commission, so he was invited to speak to the National Association of Broadcasters. Commissioner Minnow told the NAB precisely what he thought of them in a speech called to this day as the “Vast Wasteland” speech. It included this passage:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending.And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

In 1961, Minnow challenged broadcasters to do better in a public address to the industry. This spech was thought leadership that impacts the industry today. In 2016, Time reviewed the speech and its effect on the industry (

What would Minnow have to say about our current media environment? My streaming sources deliver content from the past mixed with the rest of the world and new material from today.  I have a bounty of content from which to choose.  Am I better off? Am just I seeing an expanded version of Minnow’s wasteland? 

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