Tim Russert, Perfectly 1.0
It’s hard to imagine who will be unlucky enough to follow Tim Russert as host of Meet the Press.
But his departure will likely — prediction here — trigger top management to “rethink what Sunday talk shows can be” in an era of emerging media. This will inevitably lead to the integration of new technologies–funky technomaps, digital clips, YouTube snippets, bloggers coming on the show, wisdom-of-the-voice-of-the-people-network-powered-crowdsourcing hoohas.
The move is inevitable, and probably wise: Content has to reflect the culture from which it emerges. It’s how the media behaves, and must behave to reach people. Life goes on.
Consequently the new host will not be larger than life, like Russert, but just about life-sized. He (or she: Katie?) will become, like Wolf Blitzer of CNN, a moderator and curator of digital data streams, remote interactive liver feeds and public discussion. A 2.0 website will be kitted out. The competition will follow.
This may sound horrible, and it may be.
But the worst mistake would be to try to find “another Tim Russert.” He could resist technology–the whiteboard remained his preferred method of explaining the political world even as real-time data visualization tools crept in elsewhere–only because of his powerful personality and irresistible joi de vivre let him stay strong while others capitulated to fads. There will not be another who can do old-school in the new media marketplace.
There are some people who are powerful enough to transcend the medium that delivers them to the world, to resist the fundamental change. I think of Terry Gross of “Fresh Air,” who has perfected the old-school conversational interview on public radio. In print I think of Thomas Friedman, whose major platform remains a newspaper column (and books), not a blog. And David Broder, blog-free and the master of MSM political wisdom amidst the digital chatter that closed in around him.
Those of us of more modest talents work in the media of the moment, do our best with what we’re given, think our way through the best ways to use it. The tools at our disposal shape us, and our perceptions.
But Russert 1.0 was perfect, even as the media world changed around him. He was big and steadfast and old school and absolutely in command of the national political conversation.
I imagine a certain upcoming night in November and the dim gloom I’ll feel watching the folks on CNN clustered around technopanels, Blitzer and Brown turning to multiple tiers of carefully diverse commentators who most resemble game show contestants, and doing the best they can. Life will be okay. Democracy will survive.
But Russert’s 1.0ness will not.
One of the best tributes to Russert at the inevitable memorial accumulating in front of NBC’s Washington headquarters was a small whiteboard reading “Tim, we’ll miss you.”
In the end, the medium is the message.