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A pensive J'Accuse: In the Olbermann-O'Reilly era, Ted Koppel grieves for "the death of real news"

 
 
nimh
 
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 10:48 am
Ted Koppel: Olbermann, O'Reilly and the death of real news

Summary:

Quote:
Ted Koppel, the former long-time anchor and editor of ABC's "Nightline", writes a pensive "j'accuse" about the state of journalism in the U.S. He regrets the passing of an "era of television journalism when the networks considered the collection and dissemination of substantive and unbiased news to be a public trust" and Walter Cronkite and "a handful of trusted gatekeepers" were able to offer "relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know" - to a country that was able to find compromises because they shared access to the same facts.

He identifies two causes. The most apparent one is the consumer society's demand for "an infinite variety of news, prepared and seasoned to reflect our taste." Underpinning the "financial logic of drowning television viewers in a flood of opinions designed to confirm their own biases," however, is the moment when news turned "from a public service to a profitable commodity". It was in 1968 that news was first revealed to be able to turn a profit, and soon its value was measured in commercial value. "[W]hereas in the 1960s I was one of 20 to 30 correspondents working out of fully staffed offices in more than a dozen major capitals, for the most part, a "bureau" now is just a local fixer who speaks English and can facilitate the work of a visiting producer or a correspondent in London."
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Type: Discussion • Score: 8 • Views: 1,975 • Replies: 16
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boomerang
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 10:54 am
@nimh,
I'm with Ted.

We were kind of talking about this on another thread just yesterday.

This is my bookmark until I get to read the full article.

Thanks for the link.
0 Replies
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 11:17 am
@nimh,
Who is he trying to ****... Real journalism has been dead for a long time, and now it is just stinking up the place... News ought to meet some serious standards... The press and the airwaves should be run like public property, as a public service, a utility... Those people who use the privilage of press to attack the rights of citizens should be tried, shot, and sent to the Russian front... They can all go to hell...
0 Replies
 
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  2  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 11:39 am
@nimh,
The end of professional news journalism occured when the station owners ended the the non-profit status of the news departments. They changed the news departments to be profit centers. The department had to make enough profit to support it's costs.

That was the beginning of the end. Ratings were king. The types of reporting having the highest ratings and top profits replaced the reporting excellence of the past.

A moment of silence for that loss.

BBB
Fido
 
  0  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 11:49 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
BumbleBeeBoogie wrote:

The end of professional news journalism occured when the station owners ended the the non-profit status of the news departments. They changed the news departments to be profit centers. The department had to make enough profit to support it's costs.

That was the beginning of the end. Ratings were king. The types of reporting having the highest ratings and top profits replaced the reporting excellence of the past.

A moment of silence for that loss.

BBB

When community control ended and corporate news began... You have to ask: What community does this news serve, and the only answer is the rich, through the cause of confusion and contention, then it is time to take it away from the rich and give it back to the people... I mean, when it was just small town news, it was often private interests were served, and not public interest, but the damage was small... Now the internet is the only fortress of free communication in the country... I would not care, and there would be no loss if the power of the press were taken from the privilaged few...I would not care of the churches were denied their privilages since like the press, they only attack our civil rights...

In a Democracy, if we choose to be a democracy, we must have the truth because it is upon the truth that we must govern our society... The lie, no matter how often told is no less treason... Try those those people who spread lies when the people need truth... Hang a few, and it will cure the rest...

Traditionally, counterfeiting of money is treason, but that treason does little damage compared to the counterfeiting of news, of truth...The truth is ours; We need it and must not be without it...
0 Replies
 
georgeob1
 
  2  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 11:57 am
@BumbleBeeBoogie,
I don't think that is accurate. NBC, ABC, and CBS were all profit-making organizations that were strongly motivated to use their news reporting to enhance the status, viewership, and profitability of the network. In some instances their news programs may not have directly created enough commercial based revenue to pay for the entire news operation, but it is a safe bet that their managers had a good sense of how the news organization was affecting their bottom line.

It was these same network corporations and their same management that later dismantled the news organizations, turning them into more obvious propaganda broadcasts, hardly different from those on cable stations, as greater competition from other sources and changing public habits altered the marketplace for information.

Koppel is merely expressing regret over the passing of the system that sustained him and that made him and a few others the chief sources (and filters) of public information and opinion (or news as they called it).

We now have more and more diverse sources of information and opinion. I am not at all convinced that the current reality is any worse than what proceeded it.

dyslexia
 
  2  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 12:24 pm
@georgeob1,
the major commercial media did not fall apart by "going profit". I'm remembering JFK campaigning against Eisenhower/Nixon on "the Missile Gap that never existed yet the media of the era NBC/CBS/ABC/New York Times etc supported the myth ergo supported JFK.
BumbleBeeBoogie
 
  2  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 12:49 pm
@georgeob1,
I remember very clearly when the corporations changed their news departments from non-profit to be profit centers. There was strong objection by journalists and those concerned about the effect on the quality of news.

If you want the story of how the media corporations corrupted the people's information source, I recommend everyone read the following outstanding report:

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/sociopol_mediacontrol61.htm
0 Replies
 
georgeob1
 
  2  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 01:23 pm
@dyslexia,
I agree. The news conglomerates that once owned the main broadcasters are largely gone, and new corporate owners have replaced them. However broadcasters as well as print newspapers are neither doing so well financially nor as relatively large a segment of the news & reporting industries as they once were. The world continues to change and they are being replaced by new forms of information & opinion media. (Ted Koppel merely regrets that the world has passed him by along with many others.)

BBB is correct that a couple of decades ago the corporate owners did begin to make distinct profit centers out of news organizations that may previously have been subject to less direct financial measurement. However, that doesn't suggest that the broadcasters had altered their profit seeking in any way - they were profit motivated before the shift and remaind so afterwards. Instead it very likely reflected much more the increasing levels of competition among them and the rising cost of large worldwide news organizations.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 05:33 pm
Interesting takes all, glad to see some depth to the discussion.

Meanwhile, I just happened, serendipitously, upon another article that works very well as a counterpoint to Koppel's wistful regrets over the death of traditional journalism:

Clare wins again! 'Investigative Comment' and the future of journalism on the web

Summary:

Quote:
Heralding the award of an investigative journalism prize to Clare Sambrook, openDemocracy founder Anthony Barnett argues in a piece on the role of online journalism that the changing balance between new and mainstream media is changing the nature of journalism - for the better.

Discarding traditional journalism's shibboleth of separation of fact and comment, what Clare does is "investigative comment", Barnett writes, and it is "more honest .. than most official journalism". It does not hide the advocacy motivating its research. Its role is to challenge official control of the narrative and to expose and publicise inconvenient facts, and to "achieve this you need a point of view – or, at the very least, a suspicion and a purpose."

Clare's work "exposing the scandal of child detention in Britain," he argues, "was not the kind of comment that fits into an ‘op ed’ page" - but "her reporting was urgent and argued, which ruled it out for the news pages." The web is therefore "a natural home of such ‘investigative comment’," he argues: "these .. disqualifications from the point of view of the mainstream media were all positives for our website."



0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 05:53 pm
@georgeob1,
georgeob1 wrote:
In some instances their news programs may not have directly created enough commercial based revenue to pay for the entire news operation

FWIW, Koppel identifies CBS News' 60 Minutes as the first single TV news program that turned a profit, three years after its launch in in 1968.
georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Tue 16 Nov, 2010 06:48 pm
@nimh,
No argument there. However, I'll bet that CBS (and the other networks of the day) were intensely aware of the effects of their news broadcasts on their viewership and overall profitability. As competition from other media increased and the cost & complexity of international news reporting grew, their calculation apparently was that the benefits were no longer there. It isn't uncommon to see the "good old days" as better than they really were. I believe that phenomenon is a major part of Koppel's view.

It is true that U.S. news media have generally abandoned all pretense of objectivity, compared to the norms that prevailed a few decades ago. However, I suspect the decline involves more the pretense than the fact of it.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Wed 17 Nov, 2010 06:30 pm
@nimh,
Fortunately for those of us who appreciate real news, nobody has to watch TV. There still is plenty of real news in text-based media such as the press, public radio, and the internet.
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Nov, 2010 01:55 pm
@georgeob1,
georgeob1 wrote:

No argument there. However, I'll bet that CBS (and the other networks of the day) were intensely aware of the effects of their news broadcasts on their viewership and overall profitability.


Yeah - and even Koppel's actual claim turns out to be wrong, according to Jack Shafer:

Quote:
The assertion that TV network news lost money everywhere until Don Hewitt birthed 60 Minutes is frequently repeated. But it's wrong—dead wrong—as a paper in the December issue of Journalism by Michael J. Socolow of the University of Maine shows.


Not gonna quote his quotes of Socolow, but Shafer basically devotes most of a whole article to debunk Koppel's claim that there was an innocent heyday of news broadcasting when profit-making played no role. Making money from news is a tradition that goes all the way back to the radio era, Shafer argues, highlighting the dodgy accounting practices that characterized the network news business in the glory days Koppel longs back to in order to demystify the tales of news networks driven by nothing but the public interest:

Quote:
Ted Koppel, Bad Reporter

ABC News veteran Ted Koppel ladles out self-serving news nostalgia in the Washington Post.


Shafer's obviously not quite only in it for nit-picking, however, as the title and his concluding paras make abundantly clear:

Quote:
If Koppel is so keen on criticizing the sensationalizers and popularizers of TV news who are bent on turning profits, won't he please look in the mirror? In 1979, when American hostages were taken in Tehran, ABC News capitalized on being the only one of the big-three networks with a presence in the country to start nightly special broadcasts titled The Crisis in Iran: America Held Hostage. That Koppel-anchored show morphed into the profitable Nightline franchise. I can't take a wrecking ball to everything Koppel has done in his life. He obviously did some good work with Nightline. But the ambulance-chasing and audience-pandering contained in that show set the template for the coverage of O.J. Simpson, Natalee Holloway, Anna Nicole Smith, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, the Balloon Boy, and others.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Nov, 2010 02:16 pm
@nimh,
Just seeing this whole thread, interesting. Ironic coda, there, though I'm not particularly surprised.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Nov, 2010 02:41 pm
@Thomas,
Thomas wrote:

There still is plenty of real news in text-based media such as the press, public radio, and the internet.

Depends on how you define real news, though, I guess. Looking only at Koppel's criticisms of the sensationalism, trivia and lack of interest in foreign news that charazterizes TV news, yes, the Internet provides plenty of alternatives.

Looking at Koppel's lament for a lost heyday where authoritative news anchors were gatekeepers to the news, and passed on vetted and studiously objective news in the name of the public interest, things get a little more tricky I think. Two critical questions arise immediately: was there really such a glory day, and if there was, was it necessarily a good thing?

On the first count, Koppel's nostalgia is a little too transparently self-serving when he selectively recalls a narrative where all was driven solely by a passion for the public good in journalism's heyday, and then steadily went to **** in the decades since. He simplifies things. But still, there is a real contrast. I think it's fairly uncontroversial to say that yesteryear's network news was less permeated [sp?] by partisan politics and opinionatory fervor than news at Fox or MSNBC is now.

Whether that was a good thing can be up for some discussion too - when Koppel laudates yesteryear's "relatively unbiased accounts of information that their respective news organizations believed the public needed to know," you can't help but bristle at the sheer condescending authoritarianism implied. What do you mean they got to decide what "the public needed to know"? Let me look at all the news as it comes in myself, thank you very much. How much news about sensitive government issues were you withholding because the public was deemed not to need to know? But while the extent of Koppel's longing for some benign rule by the best and brightest is grating, every time you bump into a story like this one, you can't help thinking that maybe the olden days' gatekeepers weren't so bad after all, at least in comparison, if today's cacaphonic alternative is such a messed up diet of deception and disinformation.

OK, where was I going with this? News on the Internet as alternative to the objective news from previous eras that's gone missing on TV. There is plenty of earnest and sincere reporting on difficult political and international issues available on the web, true. Lindsey Lohan doesn't need to come up in your news if you choose the right online sources to follow. But a lot of that valuable content comes in the way of analysis fueled by clear political points of view - the kind of reporting celebrated by that openDemocracy guy I linked above. Nothing wrong with that, but is there much in the way of studiously objective, factual news reporting online, other than that offered by newspapers' websites? If not, what happens to that kind of content when the newspapers keep going down, one by one? How many of those sites will still exist, let alone employ the same kind of body of national and international reporters that newspapers still use now?

I think only a very select few newspapers will survive the next decade or two at most - the New York Times, probably, and a few newspapers that manage to get new funding as pro bono projects from do-gooders and foundations (maybe the NYT will itself be one of those). But many of the sites we can still go to now for that real news won't exist anymore, certainly not as we know it, once most of the newspapers like the WaPo, the LA Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe etc are felled by the new media economy.

That leaves PBS and NPR in America, I guess ... but a) they don't have anything like the market share public broadcasters in Europe have, I believe; b) even if they become the beneficiaries of lots of news consumers heading their way in search for relatively unbiased news once the press goes down (NPR is already one of the fastest growing media), they seem to be sensitive to even just the potential of political pressure in a way the self-funded, independent press isn't (or isn't as much, one would hope, anyway).
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Tue 23 Nov, 2010 02:42 pm
@nimh,
nimh wrote:


Shafer's obviously not quite only in it for nit-picking, however, as the title and his concluding paras make abundantly clear:

Quote:
If Koppel is so keen on criticizing the sensationalizers and popularizers of TV news who are bent on turning profits, won't he please look in the mirror? In 1979, when American hostages were taken in Tehran, ABC News capitalized on being the only one of the big-three networks with a presence in the country to start nightly special broadcasts titled The Crisis in Iran: America Held Hostage. That Koppel-anchored show morphed into the profitable Nightline franchise. I can't take a wrecking ball to everything Koppel has done in his life. He obviously did some good work with Nightline. But the ambulance-chasing and audience-pandering contained in that show set the template for the coverage of O.J. Simpson, Natalee Holloway, Anna Nicole Smith, Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, the Balloon Boy, and others.



Shafer is wrong to link Nightline to the excesses of O.J. Simpson and other sensational story coverage. It was CNN in the 1980's that introduced "wall to wall coverage" of sensational stories. CNN was the first 24 hour televison news provider. CNN was the template, not Nightline.
0 Replies
 
 

 
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