December 10, 2012 by Colin Kelly
Being part of the mass media is an incredible experience. Sitting in a radio studio, able to open a microphone and talk to more than a hundred thousand people, and sometimes many, many more, is something only a relatively small number of people ever get to do.
It’s great fun, it’s a lot of power for one person to have, and with that, comes a level of responsibility.
Even in this digital age where the mass media appears to be losing some of its influence and its share of our time, in another way, it’s actually becoming even more powerful. Because radio stations like 2Day FM in Sydney or BBC Radio 2 now have truly global reach.
What would have been a 30 second one off prank a few years ago that disappeared into thin air as soon as it was broadcast now lives forever online and can be shared around the world before those responsible have even caught their breath. Or thought things through.
What seemed like an innocent prank in the team meeting can mutate into a virus before anyone has realised what’s happening.
And that’s why mass media broadcasters have layers of management. Presenters fired up and under pressure to entertain for several hours every day can’t make those judgements in the heat of the moment. But they’re often expected to. Technology has changed the job of a radio presenter to the extent that where 25 years ago there could have been one person playing the music and running the mixing desk, another answering the phones, another doing editing and pre production tasks and another overseeing everything, today there is often just one man or woman sitting alone doing it all.
Inevitably, things go wrong. Human beings make mistakes.
But big media groups have systems and procedures and people who’s job it is to ensure serious mistakes don’t happen. What’s inexcusable is when the people responsible for these decide they don’t care. Where they become so caught up in the battle for ratings and attention, so intoxicated with showbiz and drama that they forget what they’re supposed to be doing.
Read this transcript of the interview the 2Day FM presenters gave this morning. Notice the ‘process’ every call has to go through. Their ‘intended outcome’ was they would get hung up on because their accents were so appalling.
It didn’t go to plan so why was the decision taken to air the call? Someone, in the excitement and chaos of the moment, has decided ‘to hell with the consequences, this is too hot not to air’. The process has failed. Because the decision has been made too quickly and either by an individual who hasn’t had adequate training or who has forgotten what they learned. The result is the same.
And this keeps happening in the mass media. As pressures increase and staff numbers are reduced where there was once a safety net, a layer of common sense, and someone who would occassionally say ‘no’ there is now a vaccuum. Where anything goes.
It happened at KDND in the United States, with Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross at BBC Radio 2 and now in Sydney at 2Day FM. And it’s the same story every time. No-one meant to cause harm, it was just a bit of fun, we couldn’t have imagined it would turn out like this.
The system failed.