Monday, November 13, 2017

QUESTION: If a TV channel or show has a media launch or a media screening of an episode and don't tell the press or invite them, do you still cover it and report about it?

Here's a vexing question - the answer of which after many years of being a journalist and a TV critic, I haven't yet been able to distill down to a singular, binary "yes or no" answer.

What do you do as a journalist, editor, or critic if a TV channel or show has a media launch or media screening to show an episode or previews a series or film and doesn't bother to tell the press it's happening?

If a show or channel doesn't bother to extend an invitation, doesn't bother or care to make the screener or the information that was made available to the media who were there available to the rest of the press corps who were not there, do you try to support it anyway?

Do you still cover it? Or do you completely ignore it?

And if you do cover it, how do you cover it knowing you can't compete in terms of some of the stuff those who did get to see the content and who got to ask questions? How do you cover it differently?

And if you deliberately don't cover it, how do you align that with the journalistic ethos of serving readers and viewers by disseminating information and helping them to be better informed and knowing more?

The issue arose again this past Thursday a week ago when I completely co-incidentally noticed a publicist on a red carpet in a photo on social media. Not behind-the-scenes helping with exposure but actually on the red carpet.

It wouldn't grate so much if you actually heard from the people on the red carpet, but was got me was how there was nothing - and I mean nothing - about it.

The red carpet step-and-repeat backdrop banner told me what I didn't know and had no clue about: That Discovery Networks International had a media launch event and screening for the series Madiba on The Discovery Channel (DStv 121) in South Africa.

Of course there was no communication about it in the slightest from either Discovery Networks International's publicity division to me or other journalists or TV critics who have covered Discovery's channels and shows for many years.

Besides the obvious diss of being outright ignored, is the more deep-seated question of why press who actually care are often discarded in favour of "influencers" who take selfies, although longtime media would have reported on Madiba - even if we weren't there - had we simply known beforehand and got the courtesy of basic communications.

Have you ever opened Facebook on a Monday to see someone you thought you were good friends with got engaged on Saturday and that there was an engagement party but you actually didn't matter enough to even be told? Brutal, but the truth.

Do you now continue to "invest" in that friendship and try to be the desperate"add-on" friend, knowing your friendship and contribution doesn't really register or matter, or do you cut them loose and let them be?

Now transpose that same situation to a professional media environment. Do you cover something where you get excluded and ignored as media, and if so, how? Or do you just ignore it?

Discovery Channel decided to get some of the South African stars of Madiba together for the media screening and to walk the red carpet. There was even a media Q&A.

Besides no heads-up, Discovery couldn't bother to automatically just give media outside of Johannesburg who were not told and not invited something as basic as a link or screener disk to see and media preview the same. Why?

There were no rush transcripts of the media Q&A issued, nor even publicity photos. Why?

What makes it all so inexplicable and crazy is that Discovery Networks International would spend money having an event and trying to get exposure for a TV property, but not actually take what was generated there and actually send it to media who were not invited and media who couldn't be there.

In fact, Discovery Networks International spent money to piss of critics. Take a look at how many reviews and stories you can find about Madiba on Discovery Channel.

Then realise that although they won't ever say it, several TV critics and journalists chose to ignore the show for whatever reason.

It's now two weeks later.

Where are the interviews, the photos, the articles about the Madiba screening from the media who were are the media event and preview?

They asked questions, the stars talked at length. Where are those stories and coverage?

Who and what type of Johannesburg media were there, and how good (terrible?) are they are their jobs that there's so little about the Madiba media screening and event?

Did I end up watching the Madiba mini-series?

I didn't. Will I still? No. What I decided is that Discovery Channel sent a very clear signal to me and other TV critics about not just the importance of Madiba, but also the importance of the value it attaches to what press for this show.

Discovery Channel signaled that it wasn't of any importance or relevance to let me know about a media preview, interviews with the stars or to get me or other journalists to see it - so I gladly moved on and gave my limited time and focus to the other gazillions of shows and channels who made an effort during November.

I asked several other journalists covering television if they knew about Discovery Channel's Madiba media launch and some asked me about it. We all feel the same way: Since we didn't matter to it, it doesn't matter to us. All in all, one less show to worry about.

For readers and viewers wanting to know about the show, sorry. You will have to get that from the Johannesburg media who is supposed to do the reviews, run the interviews and bring the stories since they got the access, were communicated with, and did matter when it came to Madiba.