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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Harvest of Shame Indeed

Last night I watched two excellent, compelling, and utterly depressing programs on television. The first was part three of the PBS Frontline "News War" documentary about the current state of journalism. To sum up about five hours of thoughtful investigation and analysis, the current state of journalism is, if I may be blunt, f****ed. This final installment focused on the panic that many news organizations, now beholden to stockholders, are in over declining readership and how that's leading them to make asinine decisions like using Rocketboom and YouTube viewership stats to plan their news coverage. This, while feeding viewers a steady diet of "To Catch a Predator" and Anna Nicole Smith body trial coverage in the hopes that giving America what it wants to call news, not what is actually news, will be their salvation.

Chilling lowlight of the program: Charles Bobrinskoy, chairman of a financial company that is one of the largest stockholders in the Tribune Company--a man who fancies himself an expert in matters of journalism because some of his stocks say "newspaper" on them--issuing the pronouncement that the L.A. Times (a paper that's won 13 Pulitzer Prizes in recent years, and that the Tribune Company now owns) doesn't need to concern itself with covering such national and international issues as the Iraq war. Three papers alone should cover something like Iraq, according to Bobrinskoy: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. The L.A. Times (and, by extrapolation, all other metro papers, save those three biggies) would better serve readers by closing up shop on national and international issues. Yes, if the past few years have taught us anything it's that we would have all been better off if reporters nationwide had just handed the keys to Judy Miller for pre-war coverage and focused on potholes and Little League. Or that we definitely wouldn't have a problem if we all relied exclusively on the newspaper that devotes space on the front page to illuminating such newsworthy topics as "Where the dog sleeps"* and "Joint pain by gender" for our coverage of the Bush administration. Coming from anyone else, this sentiment would have been merely laughable. Coming from one of the guys who now has a say in journalism because of his money, it was terrifying.

It would have been the most disheartening thing I watched all night if we hadn't switched over afterward to Bob Woodruff's special on soldiers who suffer traumatic brain injuries, "To Iraq and Back." It was unspeakably sad, and, as with The Washington Post's superlative investigation last week on the inexcusable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, absolutely maddening to see the near-criminal negligence of our government when it comes to providing for wounded soldiers.

*42% in the bed, according to these Edward R. Murrows of the new millenium!


Blogger kwest said...

We watched the Frontline documentary as well. It was a depressing night. I was going to blog about it, but I don't think I could improve on your post.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Static Cling said...

WUNC was soliciting donations last night, so I was offered a heaping helping of Doo Wop last night.

I'll watch it on teh InterWeb, but I can't imagine I'll be too surprised. The failing news industry is hardly a scoop. I often say that the only news program worth watching is Frontline.

5:32 PM  
Blogger LMNt said...

Oh good god. Following that advice would be another small step in the direction of government controlled Chinese-style media.

Very VERY scary.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

You know what is truly sad though is that while those two shows were airing millions more people were choosing to watch "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader" instead

7:29 PM  

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