Thursday, February 12, 2015

A bad week for US News Industry

It's been a tough news week for U.S. news outlets and journalists.  Of course, by now most of us have heard the main headline-grabbers - Brian Williams being called out for "elaborating" his account of being under fire in Iraq and his subsequent suspension from his position as Managing Editor and anchor of the NBC Nightly News, and Jon Stewart announcing that he will be leaving Comedy Central's The Daily Show.
As NBC now formally investigates a growing number of allegations that Williams had sensationalized and/or exaggerated his personal involvement in other news stories (Katrina, etc.), most journalists and pundits feel that he has so damaged his credibility that he's unlikely to return in a senior news position.  And while one anchor is being punished for sensationalizing and manipulating "the truth" in his news coverage, Jon Stewart, who made his career from sensationalizing and manipulating his coverage of news stories, said he'd had enough.
Stewart was increasingly being challenged over whether he slanted stories and left important elements out in his efforts to sensationalize stories and to challenge guests on his program.  Stewart has long held that his show was satire and thus should not be held to the same standard as traditional news, although he also wanted the imprimatur of news for his program.
One consequence of the two announcements has been a level of self-examination within the news business over just how important credibility and straight factual coverage is, or should be, for both reporters and news outlets.  (And the somewhat facetious suggestion making the rounds that Brian Williams should just take over for Jon Stewart - where he wouldn't be expected to be objective and honest)
A less controversial, and more disheartening, story was last night's announcement that CBSNews' Bob Simon had been killed in a car crash in New York City.  Simon was a passenger in a limo whose driver apparently lost control, and was hit by another car.
On a slightly lighter note, a local TV news crew from San Francisco were assaulted and robbed of their equipment as they were wrapping up after a live remote.  And that robbery and attack was only the latest in a growing number of attacks on TV news crews in the San Francisco area.  The situation was so bad that for a while some news stations hired security for their remote crews.

Added: This week has also seen the release of the latest World Press Freedom Report, which states that 2014 saw a "drastic decline" in press freedoms - and that respect for journalists and press freedom saw declines in two-thirds of the countries in the world.

And while the debate of how honest and credible news should be continued, the reputation of major news outlets was taking flack from other recent events. First, a continuing litany of complaints from the Washington press corps of a lack of access and transparency from the Executive Branch (and most notably from the White House), to allegations of blatant efforts to manipulate pool coverage reporting and spy on reporters.  Add to that the President's recent habit of ignoring major news outlets in favor of politicized web outlets and talk shows in the granting of interviews, and you have major news outlets questioning their role and importance.
Then came a story in the New York Observer about an activist who outlined how he intentionally manipulated media coverage.
The unspoken conspiracy... that exists between journalists and those seeking publicity is very real. If you have a story that provokes—real or not—they have the time. Give them the promise of traffic and a little plausible denial and you’re in.
In the story, the activist provides a blueprint for how to plant and hype a story, essentially through astroturfing controversy and building "growing concern" through social media.

Such a revelation would normally be dismissed, especially by self-proclaimed "elite" news outlets, which would claim that while such activities might catch their attention, the stories would still be subjected to rigourous fact-checking and reviews to ensure that the resulting stories complied with their normal standards of objective reporting.  The much-vaunted "layers and layers" of review position, however, took a big hit with the recent UVA rape story - which very quickly and publicly unraveled, but only after the initial (now thoroughly discredited) story had been unquestioningly reprinted by a large number of news outlets.  Meanwhile, the argument that journalistic norms are applied consistently is now taking a hit as stories about potential GOP presidential candidates' history in high school and college are actively being investigated and challenged by major newspapers - newspapers who uniformly argued that it was improper to look at the backgrounds of Democratic Presidential candidates in recent election cycles.
And NBC's current concern with credibility and objectivity seems somewhat hypocritical, given the behavior of its cable news channel (MSNBC) - identified as the most blatantly partisan news source by Pew Research.

All of this is feeding the American news-consuming public's increasingly critical opinion of traditional news outlets, and may be part of their increasing reliance on online sources for news.

Sources - Bob Simon of '60 Minutes' Bob Simon killed in car crash, New York Post
KTVU news crew attacked, robbed in Hayward, SFGate
EXCLUSIVE: How This Left-Wing Activist Manipulates the Media to Spread His Message, New York Observer

Freedom Of Press Witnesses 'Drastic Decline' Globally Amid Emerging Threats To Journalists, International Business Times

Edit track: Added brief paragraph on World Press Freedom report, along with source link.

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