|Debase: To lower in
value; to corrupt or make impure
by replacing valuable ingredients with
The Debasement of TV News
the following criticism could be attributed to
someone who was stuck in "the good old days"
of TV news where I happened to have worked for
many years. If so, I have a lot of company,
especially among some of today's most respected
names in TV news.
At the same time, I know that in
many respects "the good old days" weren't
all that good. For one thing, if it weren't for
some modern day
advances in medicine, many of my friends, myself
wouldn't be around any more.
We have more news, but we have
less news that matters -- or should matter.
What am I getting at?
"...[We have seen] a 20-year trend in
which the media...have steadily replaced
journalistic standards with those of
York Times columnist Frank Rich
Let's take the
week of June 4, 2007.
In a week when there were major developments on
and national scenes, the content of TV news in
the U.S. was dominated for days by coverage of
the drunken driving sentence of a blond heiress
came to most of the public's attention after
of her appeared on the Internet.
Even the New York Times,
which at first tried to largely ignore this "story,"
eventually caved and featured it on their front page.
Although CNN had
wall-to-wall coverage of this non event, to
Sources program lambasted the media and
its own network for their
distorted news values.
has been behind changing the definition of
"news?" Simple. Today, the content
of TV news is not based on any traditional sense
of what's important in the overall scheme of
things, but on the quest for quick ratings and
At the same time, I can't blame
those who must decide on what is and
what is not "news." Although news
directors didn't write these new corporate
profit-centered "rules," their jobs
depend on how well they play "this game." Like a
their jobs depend on "winning."
functioned as a TV news director for a while,
deciding what would and would not be included in
TV newscasts. Like other news directors of the
time -- a time when ratings did not dictate
content -- genuine "newsworthiness" came first.
The preceding blond heiress story
would not have made it to "air," and because it
wouldn't, it wouldn't have turned into the
of the week. (Don't thousands of people
who are not as pretty or provocative -- many of
whom otherwise lead much
more exemplary lives -- regularly face jail time
And lest we forget, before that we
had weeks of coverage
on Anna Nicole Smith, a Playboy model who
millionaire several times her age; and more
recently, Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the alleged
prostitute, linked to Elliot Spitzer, former
governor of New York.
to all this are today's "who's sneaking around
with who" stories.
When I was in print and TV news
some of the notable people
I covered were having extramarital affairs. (One
and very married Senator who now has a
Washington building named after him, traveled
openly with his mistress.)
there was an unwritten rule that such things
were part of these people's personal
lives, and unless it interfered with their "day
job," we didn't
This has changed. The
tabloids, which now seem to
be setting the pace for TV news, even regularly
photos of "the other person."
Is this ever justified?
Sometimes. People have a
right to know
when a person they or their children look up doesn't practice what they preach. Today,
many of these extramarital stories involve
sports figures that many young people try to
the same time I know that U.S. views on these
typical of many other industrialized countries.
The article, U.S.
Breast "Freak-Out" --
An International Perspective, makes this
affairs among elected officials are hardly news
where does that leave us?
Given the control of the media
corporations over news we will undoubtedly see
even the accelerated -- move to pandering
salacious interests of audiences. Even CNN now seems to
be following the example of Fox News, the ratings leader,
by starting to emphasize tabloid stores.
conglomeration and the emphasis on profits goes
beyond pandering. It affects our democratic
process. People who rely on popular broadcast pundits
for their information are often badly mislead.
study conducted by USC's Annenberg
School for Communication and the
University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed
newscasts of 122 local TV stations in
the nation's largest media markets
during the 2002 mid-term elections. They
found that the majority of the newscasts
at these stations did not contain a
single campaign story.
Of those that did, the
average story was 89 seconds long. Most
stories that were broadcast just focused
on who was ahead in the election. A
clear relationship was found between
stations owned by media chains and the
absence of local election information.
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