Thursday, March 17, 2005

BuzzFlash & Bonnie M. Anderson discuss the state of electronic journalism

On the second day of The Common Ills existance, we noted ten books worth reading. Here's what we wrote about the ninth choice:

9) Bonnie M. Anderson's News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News. 235 pages. $26.95 list price.
Anderson's focus is on what has happened to mainstream media. A veteran of print, broadcast and cable, someone who's been in front of the camera and worked behind the scenes, Anderson's documenting the very serious crisis in our "news" resulting in the wall being torn down between "entertainment" and "news"; the bottom line mentality of news existing only to make profits; "pretty faces" trumping experience and training; the news cycle and being first trumpeting being correct; and assorted other issues.
Commenting on the stories of content left out to focus on other "issues," Anderson notes, "And what it boils down to is that airtime that could be used to truly inform the public, to educate viewers about important topics relevant to their lives, is wasted on this sort of fluff. And it becomes self-perpetuating" (p. 105).
Anyone who's gotten frustrated with a friend of family member who is still defending the "news" we see on TV, this is the gift you need to consider giving.

And the point?

BuzzFlash has an interview with Bonnie M. Anderson:

BuzzFlash: How does that tie in to the word you use in the subtitle to your book, News Flash: "Infotainment?"
Bonnie M. Anderson: What they’re trying to do is get more viewers at all costs. And "at all costs" means, we don't care if they're journalists or anything else, we want them to look good. We want them to attract younger viewers. This is the strategy that they started employing, and I'm still not sure it has any weight to it, that if you have younger people on air, they'll attract younger viewers. Advertisers like younger viewers and pay more for younger viewers, so it gets down to the bottom line. But the infotainment part was, let's entertain these people while we're maybe also imparting a little news. In the case of Garth Ancier, when he asked me what's a journalist, I truly thought he was kidding. Then I turned around and saw his face, and realized that he wasn't. This is the guy who, as the head of entertainment for a couple of different networks, would hire an actor to play a doctor, and hire an actor to play a journalist on TV. He really didn't see the difference. He did not see the value of the training journalists go through. He did not recognize or appreciate the fact that a lot of us abide by the canons of journalism--that we do believe strongly in the people's right to know, and in the First Amendment. We try to be fair and truly balanced and responsible journalists. To him, here is a product. And if he had to bring in Hollywood-type strategies to sell this product, that was fine with him.

Also from the interview:

BuzzFlash: You mentioned "product." We saw in the beginning of the Iraq war a lot of government preparation of the media. And the night of the attack on Baghdad, the news coverage we saw on CNN and other stations really treated this as though it were almost a fireworks show.
Bonnie M. Anderson: Yes, "shock and awe." This is propaganda. And news networks fell for it hook, line and sinker. They did not want to be seen as anti-patriotic, they wanted to be seen as supporting the troops, which means supporting the Administration. If you remember, the President had said you’re either with us or against us. And that was taken literally by the network honchos and the corporations that own the networks. They were very complicit in going along with this entire propaganda campaign. You know, technology can be wonderful and bring news to people faster. It can take you to things that are happening live around the world. But technology is not necessarily journalism, and it’s not always a good thing.

There's not a lot to read in this morning's Times (world briefing has some items), so it's a great time to listen to a veteran of TV journalism explain what went wrong there. (Many posts were attempted on this morning's Times. None have made it to the site. Hopefully one of the many e-mailed in will make it onto the site.)

Along with the interview, you can also find information about Anderson's book (News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News) which BuzzFlash is offering as a premium.