Thursday, March 17, 2005

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

Back in November, we noted this:

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.

BuzzFlash is offering Anderson's book as a premium and they have an interview with her. From the interview:

BuzzFlash: You also have in your book's subtitle, reference to the "Business of Broadcast News." Laurie Garrett recently resigned from Newsday, and in a long piece on Poynter, she said that she could no longer work for Newsday because the parent company, the Times-Mirror Corporation, was only concerned with being number one. She came to journalism to be accountable to the people, and to get a story to the people, but she felt that had been turned upside down. The number one accountability that news divisions or newspapers have now, because of their corporate structure, is to the shareholders. Number two is to Wall Street. And then, way, way down the list is the reader. Do you have any thoughts about that?
Bonnie M. Anderson: I fully agree with her. I'm not even sure the reader is on the list, in terms of the corporate honchos. They truly only care about the bottom line and see news as a product. What I will say on the positive side is that there are still some very, very good journalists laboring away, trying to do what they can against tremendous odds. Unfortunately, most of these are the older journalists who are still employed because the younger journalists, and I even hesitate to call many of them journalists, don't have as many role models as we used to have. They're indoctrinated into this infotainment world from the get-go. From their very first jobs, they’re looking around, and the people who should be modeling ethics to them, and principles, aren't there. I do agree with Laurie Garrett. This infection starts at the corporate level. It has now been infecting high-level executives at all of the news organizations who are making huge salaries, great stock options and bonuses.

Democracy Now! spoke with Laurie Garrett on Monday:

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Laurie Garrett Quits Newsday: "When You See News As a Product...It's Impossible To Really Serve Democracy"

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you, when you say you don't think there's any political agenda there, let's just go back a little. When there was blanket coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq, for example, when all of the media really was focusing on these issues, and yet -- and you write about this too -- somehow the issue that weapons of mass destruction were not there just didn't make it to the front pages of the Times. I mean, in that sense, you're talking about media that beat the drums for war. And it wasn't just The New York Times, it was all of the networks, as well.
LAURIE GARRETT: Well, I think there's a couple of things going on there, and that is a little more complicated. First of all, journalists love to be responsible for scoops. And that's a good thing. I mean, the competitive atmosphere that gets reporters out there hustling is a good thing. However, if the hustle is about trying to get access to a White House that is notoriously impervious to media query, that is one of the major anti-media fortresses in the country, or access to the Department of Defense when there's a Secretary of Defense who is openly disdainful, openly disdainful of the reporters in the room at every press conference, then if you want a scoop to show what's going on on the eve of this war, you needed to cultivate certain kinds of sources. Well, for some of the media, those sources turned out to be Chalabi, the leader of the whole right wing insurgency in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz and his staff in the Department of Defense, the staff of Vice President Cheney, and certain key individuals in the FBI and the Defense Intelligence Agency. And so, you know, I was getting the same information. I was covering, before the search for weapons of mass destruction, I was covering bio-terrorism very heavily after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. I was getting the same information, but I was always trying to double-check it against something else. And our feeling was you don't run a story unless you have got at least two confirmed sources, and ideally, three or four.
AMY GOODMAN: That don't come from the same place.
LAURIE GARRETT: That don't come from the same place, and that haven't -- have clearly not been sharing their information with each other, so that they're basically echoing each other's comments. But very clearly in the pell-mell rush to scoop, scoop, scoop, and to look hot, hot, hot, a lot of reporters did not show that caution. We saw stories that in The New York Times, in The Washington Post, in a number of news outlets claiming evidence of weapons of mass destruction that clearly was bogus. One of the most egregious was the claim that a Russian scientist who had been a smallpox expert was in Baghdad, and had advised the Iraqi government on smallpox production when, in fact, the time that woman had been in Baghdad had been as part of the eradication campaign, as a public health officer to eliminate smallpox from planet earth. And it really besmirched her reputation to even imply that she was a bio-weaponeer. But these were all things that were just fed. I mean, look at how the media convicted Richard Jewell of the Atlanta Olympic bombing, when it turned out, of course, that he was completely innocent. Look at how quickly the media moved to try and convict Steven Hatfill of being responsible for the anthrax mailings, when, in fact, he is free today, the judge has actually given him the right to interrogate his accusers from the media and to demand “how do you claim knowledge that I committed these events?” And then, of course, the Wen Ho Lee case in Los Alamos Laboratory, where a Taiwanese American scientist was accused of feeding discs of information to the Chinese government. Nobody ever explained why a Taiwanese would be helping mainland China. That alone should have caused some serious skepticism. But, of course, ultimately the judge in that case not only threw out all the charges against Wen Ho Lee, but particularly castigated The New York Times for their coverage and for having basically convicted him on the pages of their newspaper.

[Yes, blog problems are preventing posts this morning. Maybe this will make it up -- it hasn't four previous times.]