I’ve got some good news and…

August 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

These days the best news coverage is probably found on the bottom of a bird cage. If you’re looking for actual information about current events, however, good luck. Newspapers are folding faster than an origami whiz kid on Ritalin and the news-weeklies are less relevant than horses at a water polo match. Cable news has devolved to partisan buffoonery and network news has simply devolved to… buffoonery.

Of course, that’s just my opinion based on anecdote, observation and experience, but now, I have Tom Fenton backing me up. The revered, retired CBS senior foreign correspondent details the dumbing-down of the evening broadcasts and the fiscal and ethical implications of this process in his searing indictment, Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All. The book is almost a relic, a memento of what was once known as investigative journalism. Fenton interviews the last three archetypal old, white male anchors before they were dropped or walked the plank. (Peter Jennings is sharp, Tom Brokaw, candid and Dan, rather coy.) Fenton examines the excuses for the changes in network coverage and why they may be valid yet unacceptable. Fenton proscribes the (ir)responsible executives and, most importantly, prescribes solutions for saving both journalism and, in turn, our nation. In part, his answer is a return to former standards, specifically CBS News Standards. The author cites this significant preface to them by Richard Salant, who was president of the network’s news division back in 1976. It bears reprinting:

“We in broadcast journalism cannot, should not, and will not base our judgements on what we think the viewers and listeners are ‘most interested’ in, or hinge our news judgement and our news treatments on our guesses or someone else’s surveys as to what news the people want to hear and see, and in what form. The judgments must be professional news judgments — nothing more, nothing less.”

Sadly, ratings, profits and a patronizing disregard for Americans’ capacity for understanding, have diverted today’s journalists from their principled mission to an ignoble cliff-dive from the summit of Man’s knowledge to the pit of his fears. News at 11.

While we wag our fingers at the failed Fourth Estate, we might also ask ourselves how active we are in our pursuit of real information — not what’s fair, balanced or preposterously biased — but rather that which faithfully reports the facts so that we might assemble the truth from them. Yes, the truth may remain subjective, but wouldn’t you rather form your own opinion than adopt the one shouted at you?

I make it a point to take in multiple news sources including ones that don’t necessarily jibe with my world view, precisely for that reason. I love The Week for its sampling of different outlets’ perspectives on headline and back page items. I could still dig deeper and given Time or The Economist or Foreign Affairs, I will. (Anyone want to send me subscriptions, please?  You could be a PCH winner!)

As always, I am most interested in your opinion. What do YOU think?

Watch episodes of The High Bar with Brian Stelter of The New York Times and social media maven Monica Guzman Preston as they raise the bar for old school journalism and new media journalism, respectively.



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