Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New and Noteworthy---1861 News Reports Produced For The 2011 Cable Audience

Civil War Librarian readers are very likely to enjoy The Mason-Dixon Report, a four to five minute webcast of 1861 news and opinion set within a 2011 television news-opinion format. It's 1861. The nation is in crisis. Where does America turn for their news? The Mason Dixon Report, the 19th century's only cable news show. Robert Barnwell Rhett [historic character], Charleston Mercury newspaper editor is interviewed from his Charleston, S.C. newspaper editorial offices. Melanie Cooper and Oswald Mooney [fictitious characters] reports live from Charleston Harbor.

The Mason Dixon Report is a new approach to teaching the history of the Civil War. It is lots of fun both inside a school classroom, a Civil War discussion group or on you own desktop computer. Chris Mason [fictitious character] is the discussion moderator and brings his own opinions. A female Southern supporter from the Concerned Women for Liberty group from New York City takes Mason to task for his positions. Honus Winchell [fictitious character] calls Thomas Jackson a thief for stealing the property of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

April 1, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from Charleston, SC
April 11, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from Charleston, SC
April 12, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from Charleston, SC
April 15, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from Charleston, SC
May 10, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from St. Louis, MO and New York City, NY
May 24, 1861 Webisode: Interviews from Lynchburg,VA and New York City, NY

The language is sprinkled with 1861 slang such as sneak thief. Thankfully, there are not 1861 commericals for carriages, beer or food. William Rabkin, author of the interviews states that "the conceit of our web series is simple: Cable news existed in 1861, and this was the flagship series. And it turns out that nineteenth century cable news looks a lot like today’s. We’ve got a host who gets the news of the day from our regular reporter, and then turns to a rotating panel of pundits, politicians, and consultants to explore the meaning of what just happened."

But does the format work? In CWL's opinion is that certainly does. Rabkin offers the reason why the under five minute news and opinion blast does. He states: "But what really works for us is cable news’ institutional amnesia. Every day on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News pundits give analyses and make predictions, and the next few days prove them completely wrong. Then they come on again and make a new set of predictions based on the current state of affairs, and no one ever mentions what they said before. We wanted to give our people that license to forget. Because what’s most important to us on The Mason Dixon Report is that we never know what’s going to happen next. We don’t know who is going to live or die, which side will win or lose, which tiny detail will turn out to be a crucial turning point.

The Mason-Dixon Report is not the Colbert Report or the John Stewart Show; it doesn't go for the comedy. It stays close to the historic material and offers it in a contentious Question and Answer format. Go to the Mason-Dixon Report and enjoy it.

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