I wasn’t able to follow the news of the Norway attacks too closely this past weekend but I was able to listen to enough of the Big Three 24 hour news channels (MSNBC, Fox and CNN) to reaffirm my assessment that they just plain suck. The combination of superficial reporting, lack of context and a reliance on wholly unqualified ‘experts’ (What’s next, Snooki’s thoughts on right-wing extremism in Scandinavia?) really make these outlets more than ’empty calories’ in getting news. They suck your time and attention away from getting valuable information.
In fact, if I were king of all the operation/intelligence centers my first edict would be to ban the Big Three from the realm. I know a lot of agencies think that having those programs on all their shiny flat screen TVs (Thanks for the grant money, DHS!) gives the impression that Very Important Stuff is going on and creates the illusion of hustle and bustle but c’mon. It’s time to move on.
So, what should we replace the waterskiing squirrels, heated debates over whether Obama not wearing a tie indicates his desire to destroy Western Civilization, and flame wars between talking heads?
Well, al Jazeera continues to do some good work. On Saturday they put together a decent half hour show about the rise of right wing terrorism in Europe. I was particularly impressed by the fact that they got Tore Bjorgo on the show. Tore, if you’re not familiar with him, does a lot of work on extremism, gang membership, and terrorism and you really should check out his stuff. While he focuses on activity in Scandinavia, his findings have been invaluable to when when I used to look at the phenomenon of street gang recruitment.
That’s right…no political hacks spending all their time talking about how the attacks would impact the next congressional elections…No celebrities providing their recent holiday pictures to Holland (‘Norway…Holland…Same thing Larry.’) Just an attempt to provide a greater context to the event. Shocking.
I got an idea for another alternative at a recent stay in Washington D.C. While I was leaving the lobby of my hotel I saw this:
What a better alternative to providing casual viewers than what most intelligence centers have now. Typically, most centers have TVs on with the volume off. I suppose the purpose is the hope that someone will occasionally look at the screen and if they see smoke billowing out of a building and bloody body parts they might turn up the volume or someone might get a phone call or email saying ‘Quick! Turn on the TV!’
Neither is particularly efficient, effective or pro-active.
You’d certainly need to do some tweaking to make this appropriate for an intelligence center but I think they’d be pretty small overall. Obviously, a combination of local and international information. Perhaps a scrolling twitter feed of relevant analysts/commentators/news organizations.
Since we’ve already paid for all these flat screens (Thanks taxpayers!) we might as well use them. And really, do we need all the intelligence centers focused on momentous events like this?