2002 Media Reflects Soul of America

In all, the year 2002 was pretty exciting for people who work in and follow “the media.”

For journalists, the looming war with Iraq, the continuing war on terror, corporate scandals, midterm elections, and the DC area sniper kept us all busy reporting on any number of angles on the above topics.

The Sept. 11 anniversary coverage never once looked overplayed, despite wall to wall coverage on television, radio, the Internet and print.

For media moguls like Gerald Levin and Ted Turner of AOL Time Warner, salvaging what’s left of their personal fortunes kept them busy, after the ill-fated merger between the old and the new sent the once high flying stocks tumbling to earth.

And speaking of stocks, it’s going to take more than a new economic team from the White House before Wall Street can regain confidence from the thousands of beleaguered investors whose 401k’s were wiped out.  Between alleged criminal acts by CEO’s and ethics challenged analysts, the lead sections of our country’s newspapers were indistinguishable from their business sections.

In Hollywood, Amy Pascal, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Les Moonves, president of CBS, are sitting pretty with comic book franchises and comic impresarios, respectively. Sony hit it big with Spider Man, and CBS is the most watched network under Everybody Loves Raymond.

Meanwhile, Disney chairman Michael Eisner is reeling from a bad economy that has kept families out of his theme parks, a programming block at ABC that has failed to connect with viewers, and Jefferey Katzenberg’s increasing success in animated movies (Shrek) over at DreamWorks SKG.  Added to those problems, Disney took a beating when it tried to woo late night host David Letterman from CBS and oust ABC News stalwart Ted Koppel in the process. With a proposed merger with CNN, Roone Arledge's death in December may well mark the end of an era, in addition to a great life in broadcasting.

In New York, Rupert Murdoch is still looking like King Midas as Newscorp, which owns and operates Foxnews.com, posted earnings despite lower across-the-board advertising rates, and Mel Karmazin continued to successfully bulldoze Viacom down our throats for profit despite Sumner Redstone’s efforts to keep his man down.

Fox News Channel chairman Roger Ailes looked to be the most reported-on media mogul this past year. The brazen chairman and CEO graced many a cover story as his fledgling all-news channel won the cable news wars and unseated CNN as the most watched of the genre, with such innovative programming as The O’Reilly Factor and Fox Report with Shepard Smith leading the pack.

Boy Bands and Britney Spears went the way of Disco as music aficionados tired of Pop and opted for the Eminem show and of all things, Country.  It is a sign that America is growing up, evidenced further by this year's adult oriented holiday movies like Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can and Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers.

As we head into 2003 we will be hearing more on those stories with "legs," as we say in the news business. There will be a trial for accused Beltway snipers John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad. Another for Baretta star Robert Blake. The media itself will continue to make news, as CBS News decides on the fate of 60 Minutes executive producer and creator Don Hewitt, who is rumored to soon be forced out and replaced by a younger leader for the grand-daddy of all news magazine shows.  The "booking" wars will continue between the morning news programs, and to be sure, CNN will come after FNC with guns blazing, while MSNBC continues to struggle to find itself.

You can also be sure to see an increase in subscription based Websites in the coming year, as the costs to maintain and operate cyber-businesses continue to rise, and Uncle Sam revisits the issue of taxing the Internet.

Most of this, however, will go unnoticed by everyday Americans who struggle day in and day out to survive in an increasingly harder world. With layoffs abounding, vanishing retirement accounts and tax day just four months away, there are more pressing concerns as life goes on.

The statement from Americans last holiday season was "we're not afraid." Consumers boosted the economy by spending money on lavish gifts, but this year retail is down. That's because people are doing now what they really wanted to do then, and that's spending time with family and loved ones. If that means smaller and fewer gifts, we made up for it with love.

Happy New Year everybody.

Mike Straka is the project manager for Fox News's Internet operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on Fox Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC) and as a reporter for Foxnews.com. 

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