He's known as the "ringmaster," the Sultan of Salaciousness" and one of the "10 Most Interesting People," but ask Jerry Springer about his famous talk show or the 10 Emmy Awards he earned as a news anchor, and you'll find he's surprisingly humble.
"It lasts because it's just so stupid," Springer said of his show, now in its 21st season. "It’s on because it’s cheap, the economic model drives it .. we don't have to pay great writers."
One could argue that "The Jerry Springer Show" was the precursor for the reality T.V. the world has come to know today.
"The difference is our show is reality and what we call reality [are] contrived situations," he said, pointing out that his characters are not uprooted from their lives and forced to live with strangers in a house or on an island. "We are reality ... It’s a snapshot of what's going on in these people's lives."
What makes his show fascinating are the guests' personalities, he says, adding, "You can’t be on the show unless your story is outrageous or inappropriate." And to deter anyone from fabricating stories, Springer's guests aren't paid a cent, so what motivates them to broadcast their issues to the world?
"They come on because they want to get something off their chest," he says. "For one week, someone listens to them."
On May 8, it will be Springer who will be in the "hot seat," as he fields questions from Press Club of Long Island President Dominick Miserandino about his perspective on today’s media landscape. The program, opened to PCLI members ($5), non-members ($10) and students, (free!) will take place at 7 p.m. in Adelphi University's Olmsted Theatre.
"I think what is taking place in our whole culture," including journalism entertainment and politics, Springer says, is that "as technology improves, we're witnessing the democratization of all elements of society."
In the past, the lines between the professional performers and the audience, were clearly drawn, but with the advent of talk radio and television, and "the achievements of technology, all of a sudden, the people in the audience are becoming the entertainment," Springer says. For instance, any person with a computer connection and basic video camera can broadcast themselves on Youtube.
The same thing is happening in journalism with the creation of blogs. "Anyone can be a journalist," says Springer, who hosted Progressive Radio talk show for two years, in addition to his stint as a news anchor. "It’s no longer, 'What are the three columnists of The New York Times saying?' ….. It's been so spread out and diversified that there is no dominant media."
Technology has also given people more political power. Average citizens are able to share their ideas and mobilize others to incite change."Dictators are having a hard time hanging on," says Springer, a former Cincinnati mayor. " People can say, 'Let’s call a strike tomorrow,' and the powers that be are having a tougher and tougher time maintaining control."
Springer even credits the success of Barack Obama's campaign for president to technology's democratization of our culture.
"Barack never would’ve become president without the Internet and cell phones and texting because ... the powerful people who control political parties would not have chosen him," Springer says. Instead, using mobile technology and platforms like Twitter, Obama was able to "go outside the political mainstream" to fund-raise and organize his supporters.
So what does this media circus mean for people who have made a career out of being the person who does deliver the news? Well, it isn't all bad news, in Springer's opinion.
"There is still room for professional journalism," he says. "As with the evolution of any discipline, in the beginning it will be chaotic ... but eventually, people will drift to those who have the most credibility. In the end, someone has to get the story. You can’t just have opinions."
For instance, most bloggers today will base their writings off of the latest article in The Times. Technology has, however, put pressure on journalists to adapt to the changes and to work harder than ever.
"Journalists can not fall into the trap of laziness or just go off of regular 'professional sources' to get the news," such as press statements or releases. Now, that the average person is equipped with a cell phone with a camera, "information is coming through from all kinds of people," he says. This requires journalists to perform more footwork and sift through more sources, but ultimately, "creates a greater discipline."
And what does it take to win a coveted Emmy?
"I have no idea," says Springer, who earned 10 of them while anchoring a news program for WLWT, Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate. "I think what happened was ... I was one of the first news anchors to ever do a nightly commentary. All of a sudden, we went form fourth to first in the ratings. So much attention was paid to what I said every night."
If you want to hear more of what Springer has to say, click here to reserve a seat at the Press Club of Long Island's May 8 program.