The Year in Media
2011 was a year of upheaval in the media, with small outfits and blogs breaking major news, major players fleeing their network homes, troubles at News Corp. and the New York Times erecting a pay wall. As the year comes to a close, here are the top 11 biggest media trends of 2011 and what they might mean for 2012:
Breaking News: 2011 was a remarkable year for breaking news coverage. The death of Osama bin Laden, the Arab Spring, the earthquake in Japan, and a 2012 presidential race with several twists and turns stretched network's budgets and offered glimpses of a journalistic process we rarely see. CNN teams were nearly bombed in Libya. CBS' Lara Logan was placed in mortal danger in Egypt. High profile personalities were awoken in middle of the night as they were informed of bin Laden's death, forcing New York Times to literally stop the presses, a rarity, and re-print the front page. Specialty media had their moments to shine like Japanese broadcaster NHK during this spring's devastating earthquake, Al Jazeera for the upheaval in the Middle East and Bloomberg TV for the Eurozone crisis. With the protests in Syria just around the corner, the trend isn't going to stop.
The Great Moderators: 2011 ushered in 13 Republican presidential debates, which have brought in huge ratings. The ABC/Yahoo! News/Des Moines Register Debate on December 10 attracted over 7.5 million viewers -- on a Saturday night. The Fox News/Iowa Republican party debate just five days later had an impressive 6.7 million total viewers. The debates have also figured centrally in the rise and fall of several presidential campaigns, particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry's and former Speaker Newt Gingrich's. With those ratings and another 11 debates already scheduled for 2012, expect to see even more in the future.
Sex Sells: There's almost nothing the media love more than a good old fashioned sex scandal and 2011 didn't disappoint. In February, Gawker broke the news that former Rep. Chris Lee, R-N.Y., had posted shirtless photos of himself on Craigslist and solicited at least one transsexual. 2011 also brought us Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child and Dominique Strauss Kahn's resignation as head of the IMF after a hotel maid accused him of sexual assault. Herman Cain's sexual harassment scandal brought even more media intrigue.
But the biggest sex scandal of the year began in May, when Weiner accidentally tweeted a photo of himself to thousands of followers. Weiner's much-lambasted "I can't say with certitude" line in an interview with NBC's Luke Russert, was the beginning of the end. He resigned on June 21 after a series of embarrassing photos and messages were leaked by TMZ, "Radar Online" and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. In the weeks leading up to Weiner's resignation, Breitbart became part of the story himself, slowly leaking photos of Weiner and explicit messages he exchanged with one of the women.
TV Change-Ups: 2011 was a big year for network programming shifts. CBS made manifest changes to their news department, placing Scott Pelley at the helm of the CBS Evening News and completely revamping the Early Show.
Face the Nation recently announced it will extend to a full hour, like all the other Sunday shows, next year. ABC's Christiane Amanpour left the anchor's seat at This Week, after a year and a half in the role, and will return to reporting on global affairs for ABC and CNN concurrently. The network announced that George Stephanopoulos will return to host This Week, in addition to his duties at Good Morning America, at least for the time being.
NBC launched Rock Center with Brian Williams, bringing on major players like Ted Koppel and Harry Smith.
Print Moves: The print world also saw some major turnover this year. In a series of surprise moves, the New York Times lost a CEO and an executive editor this year. The changes in the upper ranks came as the paper launched an online pay wall, announced a buyout of fewer than 20 staffers and sold 16 of its regional newspapers. Meanwhile, the world's largest magazine publisher, Time Inc., let its CEO Jack Griffin go in February, relying on a triumvirate of executives to lead the company as it searched for a replacement. Nine months later, the company brought in Digitas CEO Laura Lang, hoping to capitalize on her digital background, though her lack of publishing experience has some worried about the company's future.
Big Names, New Venues: Several high-profile media personalities took on new roles in unfamiliar places this year. Oprah Winfrey left her high-rated talk show after 25 year to launch her own network, OWN. Poor ratings led Winfrey to fire OWN's CEO in May, just four months after it launched, but the network has yet to pick up. Glenn Beck left his Fox News show and started an online network, GBTV, while a rift with MSNBC brass pushed Keith Olbermann to leave the network for Current TV. Katie Couric left CBS and will launch her own talk show, Katie, in 2012.
Phone Hacking: News Corp. ran into some trouble across the pond this year, as several executives at its European newspaper branch, News International, were arrested in connection with a phone hacking scandal at one of its tabloids. The scandal led the company to shutter the News of the World, its 168-year-old tabloid, in July. The scandal continues to reverberate abroad as current and former News International employees, including News Corp. deputy COO James Murdoch, son of chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch, face Parliamentary inquiry.
Colbert's Nation: Comedian Stephen Colbert loves to insert himself -- or at least his character -- into politics. With the help of former FEC chairman Trevor Potter, Colbert and his PAC have made their mark on 2012 politics, bringing a case before the FEC, running ads for fake candidate Rick Parry in Iowa before the Ames Straw poll, and offering to pay for the South Carolina Republican presidential primary - in exchange for having it named after him, of course.
The Big Merger: Huffington Post took steps to up its mainstream credentials in 2011 after selling itself to '90s tech giant, AOL in February to the tune of $315 million. Media maven Arianna Huffington has spent the year luring talent away from major news outlets. Huffington Post has made a marked effort to transition away from aggregation and into original reporting, and has worked hard to earn legitimacy in the mainstream media landscape.
Public Funding Questioned: 2011 did not look bright for NPR early on. Just months after the Juan Williams controversy subsided in late 2010, conservative activist James O'Keefe recorded an NPR executive calling members of the tea party "seriously racist, racist people." Though O'Keefe's tactics - posing as a member of a Muslim charity intent on spreading Sharia law worldwide - were the subject of much suspicion, the video went viral and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller was sent packing. The video lent credence to congressional Republicans' complaints about the organization's liberal bias and soon the House voted to defund NPR. Senate Democrats killed the bill and, with it, the scandal. With a new CEO at its helm and economic woes occupying the nation's mind, NPR has remained relatively quiet ever since.