Finally, vindication for anyone whose parents ever griped about television not being educational — a former Yalie has come up with new kind of internet news site designed for television aficianados.
In an attempt to explain the issues behind television’s increasingly reality-based shows, Stephen Lee ’95 has designed a website with the aim of footnoting the real-life issues that make the shows. The name of his new site: FootnoteTV (footnote.tv).
Beginning with the West Wing and Saturday Night Live, Lee has expanded FootnoteTV to include the Daily Show with John Stewart and JAG. He plans to begin covering South Park in the near future. The site provides links to each episode of the season, annotating and explaining the issues addressed or mentioned in that particular episode.
Click on West Wing’s third season and under the most recent episode, “Posse Comitatus,” in which President Bartlet ordered the assassination of the Kumari Defense Minister, you will find a page-long discussion of official policy behind the U.S. employing military force in peacetime situations.
Launched in February 2002, FootnoteTV is just one of several parts of Lee’s self-run website, newsiac.com — a site devoted to journalism that doesn’t follow the breaking news model. Instead, Lee’s site seeks to cover the issues behind breaking news headlines.
In addition to FootnoteTV, Lee’s site includes an “issues” link. AIDS, the Middle East and the death penalty are just a few of the topics Lee has outlined, supplementing his explanations with charts and photographs.
The “cases” link leads to a list of controversial and much discussed civil and criminal court cases including Microsoft, Napster and Exxon Valdez.
“Mirror Law,” yet another part of the website, digs into the issues behind several recent movies, answering the question “Could Elle Woods actually be lead counsel for her client?” for all those for whom simply watching Legally Blonde wasn’t enough.
Breaking news, according to Lee “shouldn’t be the only way that journalism works.” With its in-depth coverage of the underlying background issues, Newsiac complements our everyday barrage of quickly-changing headlines, encouraging users to watch an issue as it develops.
Newsiac’s user-friendly interface encourages visitors to jump from link to link as they explore issues further or even to reference important documents such as the U.S. Constitution or State of the Union addresses as they go.
Lee, who works as a litigator in New York City, works on the site in his spare time — keeping the same hours as he used to when he worked as news editor for the YDN. He says that his motivation for creating the site was, in part, “to trick my little brother and sister into learning something.”
“Rather than simply complaining that young people learn news from comedians, this site does something about it,” Lee said, pointing out that this kind of coverage is increasingly important as shows like JAG become influential policy tools.
“The Department of Defense is now using JAG to rally support to military tribunals,” Lee said. In fact, the Pentagon taught one writer for JAG — a show about military lawyers — about procedural rules for the tribunals the Pentagon was establishing for members of Al Qaeda. JAG knew the tribunal procedures before the Pentagon even released that information to the press, Lee said.
Beyond enhancing the enjoyment viewers can get from really understanding the shows, thereby making the jokes funnier and issues more accessible, Lee sees his site as a response to the number of “good drama shows [that] have developed over the past decade” which have “been able to deal with a lot more real issues.”
“There had been this trend where journalists will use movies and television as a hook,” Lee noted. He hopes that “in some ways this site is an evolution of that,” a more responsible way to use television as a catalyst for public interest in the real issues that lie behind the shows.