ADP forum examines ‘Politics as Entertainment’

ADP at RIC forum panelists include, from left, Mark Patinkin, Tim Staskiewicz, Dan McGowan, Gene Valicenti (moderator), Scott MacKay and Vincent "Buddy" Cianci.
When U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she didn’t take off her clothes to earn money to help pay for college – a swipe at incumbent Sen. Scott Brown who had done so in a magazine – Brown’s simple response, “Thank God,” went media viral.

Though their mini spat wasn’t about a jobs bill or raising the debt ceiling, it was an entertaining (to some) item that was easy to understand and instantly accessible in the interconnected media.

And it was also lead-story material, according to Gene Valicenti, longtime NBC 10 anchor, who said it merited that status because people would pay attention to it.

Valicenti served as moderator of “Politics as Entertainment – Where Should the Media Draw the Line?” an American Democracy Project at RIC forum held in the college’s Alger Hall on Oct. 13.

Photo gallery

Tim Staskiewicz

Vincent "Buddy" Cianci
Forum panelist Tim Staskiewicz, digital content director for CBS Radio in Boston – including WZLX, the classic rock station where Brown made his comment – noted that Brown’s “Thank God,” uttered at 8:45 a.m., went worldwide by dinnertime in the digital age.

Consumers of news have changed, preferring “instant gratification,” such as Twitter and other new social media, according to Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, former Providence mayor and current radio talk show host.

“Be witty, fast moving, a little controversial,” said Cianci, because that’s what people like. “It’s easy to be funny; it’s hard to be a good thinker.”

Dan McGowan, editor of, said, “The traditional water cooler has changed,” with discourse now taking place online.

McGowan believes, however, that veteran newspapers such as the Providence Journal still have value, noting that the front page of the paper can dictate the news cycle.

Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin noted that his paper has in recent years lost half of its circulation, has half as much content and takes in half the revenue it once did.

Mark Patinkin

Gene Valicenti
But the publication, he said, is “making a bet” that there is still a place in the media for serious journalism, what he described as “in-depth, double-check, triple-check” journalism.

“I think we live in a multi-platform world,” said Scott MacKay, WRNI political analyst and a former political reporter for the Providence Journal.

Technology “underpins” a lot of the changes in media, he said, adding that one night in September of 1960 changed the way we cover politics – the televised Kennedy-Nixon presidential debate.

A poll of radio listeners to the debate showed that Nixon had narrowly won the debate, but a poll of those who watched the debate had Kennedy winning 2-1.

MacKay descibed it as the "triumph of the visual."

MacKay explained that public radio (his station is an NPR affiliate) is more like what the mainstream papers do, what he termed the “culture of verification.”

He said that radio has survived the onslaught of new media, noting that WRNI has actually added people to its staff and now has a stronger broadcast signal.

Scott MacKay

Dan McGowan
Whatever the platform – digital or print, social or mainstream media – and however the media evolves, the subject of the story will always be important in determining whether or not it gains attention.

Just as crucial as the subject, however, is the way the story is delivered, according to the panelists.

“You can’t divorce what you’re saying from how you say it,” MacKay said.

“Whatever you pursue, make sure that the message is delivered in a compelling way,” Patinkin said. People are ready to turn the page or switch the station if you don’t keep them interested, he added.

Staskiewicz said that content delivered by the media is dependent on its audience. “The change isn’t going to come from the media…it’s going to come from you guys,” he said to the approximately 125 people in the audience. “People want to watch ‘Jersey Shore,’ that’s what they get.

“You can read a wider array of news and opinion than any other previous generation,” MacKay said to the audience of mostly RIC students. “Look in the mirror. It’s (your) responsibility to go out and find good news sources.”