April 6, 2006
The state of the news in America
It's been a big week for American TV journalism. The biggest story is Katie Couric's move from NBC News (because "Today" technically counts as a news show. I know, don't get me started) to CBS where she will anchor the Evening News.
Now today, the Center for Media and Democracy issued a report called "Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed" (NY Times coverage). They report that 77 news departments in TV stations across the country have used corporate video news releases as part of their news segments, without telling viewers that they were watching commercially produced advertisements. Sometimes they just air the entire unedited corporate video. They've shown publicists on-air and credited them as being reporters. Their anchors have read scripts provided by corporate publicists as though they were doing their own objective reporting.
The FCC will probably take notice of this report, because they started investigating this kind of use of promotional video in news reports last year, specifically chastising stations for airing government-produced videos without saying where the material came from.
Slate ran an article at the beginning of the week about the death of objectivity in news. Since many news outlets don't even pretend to be objective anymore, should viewers still expect it, or just select news sources according to their overt agendas? Old media like newspapers and network nightly news shows used to at least try to be objective, but they're declining in popularity. Should they just abandon their old values and deal in the opinion journalism of blogs and cable news? Intercut with segments filed by "reporters" from Capital One and Intel?
It looks like the answers to many of these questions are up to the latest leader of American journalism, Katie Couric. Katie did an unmatchable job for 15 years of steering the content of "Today"'s stories back to herself and her own life, and also providing a forum for corporations to advertise their products live on an NBC News show. But if network news gets even less objective and even more commercial with the arrival of the newest cast member this September, we can't just blame Katie. These shows are already letting publicists stand in for journalists and showing us ads and telling us it's news.
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