I value the decades I spent in television news. Helping people to understand the events and issues of the day was important work that brought satisfaction and, at its best, promoted the democratic ideal of an informed citizenry. Now from the Society of Professional Journalists come two items about the state of broadcast journalism that are enough to embarrass me on behalf of the profession, or craft, and make my teeth hurt. I hope these travesties move news consumers in Tyler, Texas, and Portland, Maine, to demand corrective action, but my guess is that the line between news and entertainment has been so thoroughly plowed under that audiences don’t see anything amiss. Viewers have been conditioned by local and national television and cable news to accept a standard of professionalism dominated by the ethics of beauty contests and show business promoters.
Here is the first item, from SPJ’s electronic newsletter :
BOOB TUBE? A television station in Tyler, Texas, has a beauty pagaent queen with no journalism experience anchoring a news show. The woman’s experiences are being chronicled for a reality television program titled, “Anchorwoman.” Cary Darling of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported SPJ President Christine Tatum’s reaction to the station’s hiring decision.
Next: This item from Tatum’s own newsletter. Be sure to follow her link to the television news staff’s promotion of a movie. The first time I watched it, I thought it was a gag, a parody. The second time, I shouted bad words at the screen.
Then, there’s the news team at WGME in Portland, Maine, which appears in one of the biggest assaults on journalism integrity ever to hit the silver screen. But, hey, I give them credit for managing to promote a theater and their newscast while also directing moviegoers to turn off their cell phones and pick up their trash. That takes real talent!
Wake up, people. You’re harming journalism — and looking fabulous as you do so.
I don’t know who the news director is at WGME, but the Radio Television News Directors Association does. The RTNDA should reprimand him or her and the news director at KYTX in Tyler for their breaches of professional standards and for further disillusioning Americans about the reliability of broadcast news.
Ted O'Reilly says
I see both the stations involved are CBS affiliates. Murrow’s rolling over in his grave…
Tim Barrus says
Maybe it’s dealing with cliche to bring what is Corporate Culture with it’s subsequent “values” into this picture, but a cliche is in essence a point of reference overused, and the term Corporate Culture is not that. To understand Corporate Culture, you have to take the thing apart just like you would have to disassemble the paradigms for any other culture to inspect them. Corporate Culture is not immune from inspection even if it is immune from retrospection. Journalism is only one victim to: ritual, conformity, language, strict divisions, heirarchy, class, vision, and purpose. This dialogue has been going on around the media for a while now. What is amazing to me is how the thing is disassembled as there is so little awareness or recognition as to what Corporate Culture is or how it clings to the status quo as a survival mechanism. That “change” is not easily facilitated within the context of Corporate Culture is a given. It is also a weakness. The inability of the corporation to adapt spells its doom and time takes care of the rest. Until we actually begin to see that we have sold virtually everything in the culture at large to the Corporate Culture that holds what wealth it accumulates quite tightly, the temple priests will remain gainfully employed.
(You will find cinematic representations of the above idea and others even more abstract at Mr. Barrus’s web site,
Other Matters, indeed. — DR)
Bill Kirchner says
Perhaps so, Ted, but even Murrow was not immune to the pressures of our entertainment-and-celebrity-obsessed culture. Remember “Person to Person” (which, in fairness, he reportedly did in order to keep “See It Now” going)?
Ted O'Reilly says
I’m older than you, Bill, and remember watching Murrow’s P-t-P live.
I suppose in the naivete of the time we didn’t have ‘celebrities’ as we have these days. Murrow did indeed do personality interviews, but as often as not they were with John Steinbeck or Harry S Truman or Nat King Cole.
Even with the lighter chats (such as a Liberace or Marilyn Monroe), the subjects seemed to come up to his level, rather than the panting-after-Paris quality of current celebrity chasers.