Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Anchorwoman show cheapens broadcast journalism

In recent years, broadcast journalism has been widely criticized for being biased or too entertainment focused. Others say broadcast journalists, especially the anchors, just read the news. Some movies have played upon this stereotype with “air head” television news broadcasters.

While I personally know that is an unfair criticism many Americans do not and now a new reality show called Anchorwoman (http://www.fox.com/anchorwoman) feeds upon this common stereotype. The end result, I think, is bad for journalism.

On June 11, 2007, the New York Times ran a story by Paul J. Gough entitled, “Fox reality show roils East Texas town.” Here is an excerpt:

“An upcoming Fox reality series about a model-turned-TV journalist is causing a stir in the East Texas city where "Anchorwoman" is being produced.

Model Lauren Jones arrived last week in Tyler, Texas, for a 30-day stint at KYTX-TV, a CBS affiliate, that will include co-anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast today. Jones, who was cast for the show by Fox 21 and the G Group, has been undergoing behind-the-scenes preparation as a reporter and anchor, her every move taped by a 40-member crew. "Anchorwoman" will run on Fox beginning in late August.

Jones is a swimsuit model and actress whose credits include WWE's "SmackDown!" and "The Guiding Light." She has no journalism experience; the show will be about whether Jones can hack it in TV news. She arrived in Tyler a week ago and has been put through what a station official calls intensive training in how to read a TelePrompTer and report stories on her own. …

This is the first time that a reality series will feature someone with no journalism experience who will be thrust into a job surrounded by real journalists. It has raised concerns inside and outside KYTX.

"One of the last sacred grounds of integrity in local television is the local newsroom, so I guess I would say I'm disappointed to see a station, much less one in our own community, that has evidently sold its integrity," said Brad Streit, vp and GM for KLTV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Tyler. …

Al Tompkins, broadcast group leader for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., is more blunt: "It devalues the work of real journalists who are trying to do real work. It doesn't do anything to help the reputation of journalists there and around the world."

KYTX station president and GM Phil Hurley shrugs off the criticism, pointing Friday to the big story on cable news.

"Journalism credibility? I think that's somewhat amusing when all I see today on the cable news is Paris Hilton, nonstop," he said. "This is a TV show. It's going to be a comedy. They just chose to shoot it at our station." …

Barbara Cochran, executive director of the Radio-TV News Directors Assn., said that among her concerns is that viewers will get a distorted picture of what goes on in a newsroom.

"At a time when journalists are getting a lot of criticism, it's going to present a picture that doesn't show the hard work and deep thought that goes on in every newsroom," Cochran said.

I’d be interested to know what you think. Post a comment on this blog.

Is there more anger in the news media, or is it just me?

Seems to me like news editorials, magazine commentaries, printed news analysis, letters to the editors, guest columns and news talk shows are full of anger these days. I don’t remember that always being the case. I don’t mean just disagreement over issues or people, I mean real anger toward people or groups that are in power or are in opposition to the ideas of the editor/writer/commentator.

It has become almost common place for journalists/commentators to include statements of hate in their commentaries. There are spoken and written comments saying they wish a politician would die, or saying they hate a particular group or ideology. What I’m seeing and hearing is more than just simple name calling (although there is far too much of that). This is real anger, real hate, leveled at groups and individuals.

One author, Peter Wood, says we have a “national epidemic of anger.”

Wood is provost and academic vice-president at King's College, an in his new book, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, Wood explores the roots of that anger and the way it manifests itself in our culture.

In his book, Wood says this cultural anger has become central to our political process. In a recent commentary, Chuck Colson (breakpoint.org) explained Wood’s ideas in this way:

The discourse of our time has become about anger, with pundits, politicians, and their supporters acting as if their anger and hatred were virtues in themselves. Political and journalistic careers are built on being angry. It's a nationwide case of "I-hate-therefore-I-am," says Wood. As traditional virtues like self-control have eroded, replaced by new "virtues" like self-expression, anger and hatred have become celebrated, even cherished.

If you doubt it, look around. Read a bumper sticker or a comic strip. Pick up a newspaper or a magazine. Although Wood cites prominent cases of New Anger on both the right and the left, he sees a September 2003 article in the New Republic as "pivotal." That was the article that Jonathan Chait began with these words: "I hate President George W. Bush."

Wood comments, "Chait is a serious political commentator, not a barroom drunk." But Chait and others like him have legitimized a new way of talking about culture and politics that once would have seemed more at home in the barroom. They have demonstrated "that people who were eager to maintain a view of themselves as 'serious' and 'thoughtful' could, without risk to self-image or reputation, indulge in public vituperation" of the president or any other politician that they happen to hate. And many have followed their lead, with the result that true seriousness and thought have gone out the window. If you get angry enough, you prove your viewpoint worthy of respect—and that no one else's viewpoint is even worth considering.

Americans should do some serious thinking about how common anger has become in our culture and in our discussions of political ideas and people. Political debates are not won by who can shout the loudest, get the maddest or hit the silence button first. A person who cherishes anger can be downright dangerous.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Forum Attendees Develop Shared Vision on Issue of Money and Politics in Democracy

Finding ways to develop public policies toward money and politics in a democracy was the purpose of a deliberation I conducted through University of Missouri Extension.

Nine persons attended and deliberated all sides of this issue before making choices and finding common ground.

Money has always been a political problem, but today, there is a widespread perception that the political thirst for cash is out of control. Now so much money changes hands in politics that a cloud of suspicion grows.”

Darkening this cloud above our political system is the daily news about the staggering amounts of money that lobbyists spend to kill legislation or obtain tax breaks and favored treatment in regulations.

Americans believe the entire political system must be done in the spirit of one person, one vote. The significant level of public alienation from politics calls into question the legitimacy of our democrat form of government.

The focus of this forum was whether Americans should reform the campaign fund-raising system, rein in lobbyists and politicians thirst for money or publicize all political donations, but not regulate them.

Most everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and by the end of the forum a shared view had developed.

“The diversity of political viewpoints and backgrounds at the forum, different as they seemed, appeared to be moving on a similar path be the end of the forum,” wrote one attendee on a post-forum questionnaire. “I saw the value in listening with more respect to others opinions but I also learned a lot from the content.”

Based on pre- and post-forum questionnaires, participants did change some of their views as a result of the forum.

For example, before the forum, 40 percent of participants said they were not sure about what should be done on this issue. After the forum, 90 percent said they had a definite opinion about what should be done.

A majority of attendees, 90 percent, agreed that “high campaign costs discourage good people from running for office.”

There was also a strong sense that “current election laws favor those who already hold office,” a statement that found support from 100 percent of participants.

The statement, “candidates depend too heavily on large campaign gifts from wealthy donors,” was agreed with by 100 percent of participants.

It is interesting to note that only 40 percent of participants felt that “restricting political donations infringes on the free speech of citizens.”

When the forum was over, post-forum questionnaires showed that participants had moved toward favoring some specific actions. Attendees generally agreed with getting rid of lobbyists, restricting (or greatly limiting) donations to campaigns, and providing free television time and public financing for qualified candidates in state and federal campaigns.

There was also some discussion about a participant’s idea to get Representatives and Senators out of Washington, D.C. altogether. His idea was to let members of Congress work out of their current homes, in their legislative districts, and linking Congress together electronically so business could be done more efficiently, for less money, with less support staff, and without continual pressure from lobbyists.

At the end of the forum, 90 percent of attendees favored this statement: “Reduce the power of special interest by using public funds to finance elections even if that would cost taxpayers more money.”

This statement, “Curb the power of lobbyists for special interests even if that means reducing the power of interest groups that speak for you,” was favored by 100 percent of attendees, including an active member of AARP who attended the forum.

On the other side of the issue, none of the attendees favored the removal of “restrictions on political donations even if that means that some candidates will have much more money than their opponents.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

What is Good Journalism?

Journalism is vital to the health of our democracy, the glue of information that holds this complex nation together, according to a new book by 12 members of the Missouri School of Journalism faculty.

What Good Is Journalism? How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life, edited by George Kennedy, professor emeritus, and Daryl Moen, professor, shows that there is much to be praised about the state of American journalism today.

"Journalism tells us most of what we know about the world beyond our own experience by going where its audience cannot or will not," said Kennedy. "It keeps watch on the government and other powerful institutions, exposes wrongdoing and injustice, and shares the endless fascinations of everyday life."

Through stories of real people, the chapters trace the development of free expression through American history and show how the principles of journalism that Americans take for granted are playing a revolutionary role in emerging democracies.

The subjects of those stories, some famous and some unknown, range from American heroes such as John Peter Zenger and Ida B. Wells to Fatmire Terdvice, an investigative reporter who risks her life with every story in today's Kosovo.

Other chapters detail the remarkable growth of NPR, examine the community-building role of a small daily newspaper, and show the importance of investigative reporting. There is even a chapter suggesting how citizens can demand the quality of journalism they want and need.

What Good Is Journalism? includes the results of a national survey, undertaken exclusively for this book, that reveal how Americans really view and use the press. The survey shows, as others have, that news consumers object to what they see as bias and intrusiveness. However, these consumers also place great value on journalism's roles as watchdog, explainer and informer. Overall, they believe what they read and hear. With all its faults, they say, journalism is important in their lives.

The chapters and authors are:

Americans and Journalism: We Value but Criticize It
By George Kennedy and Glen Cameron, the Maxine Wilson Gregory Chair in Journalism Research

Journalism: The Lifeblood of a Democracy
By Sandy Davidson, associate professor, and Betty Winfield, University of Missouri Curators' Professor

NPR Offers News and Companionship
By Geneva Overholser, Curtis B. Hurley Chair in Public Affairs Reporting

The Hometown Newspaper Builds Community
By Judy Bolch, Houston Harte Chair in Journalism

Watchdogs of Government Serve Citizens
By Wes Pippert, associate professor and director of the Washington Program

Journalism Builds New Democracies
By Byron Scott, professor emeritus

Investigative Reporting Saves Lives
By Brant Houston, professor and executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors

Computer-Assisted Journalism Creates New Knowledge
By David Herzog, assistant professor, and Brant Houston

How to Get the Journalism You Deserve
By Stuart Loory, the Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies

What Good Is Journalism? How Reporters and Editors Are Saving America's Way of Life (ISBN 978-0-8262-1730-1, $37.50 cloth) (ISBN 978-0-8262-1731-8, $19.95 paper) is available at local bookstores or directly from the University of Missouri Press. Individuals placing orders should include $5.00 shipping and handling for the first book and $1.00 for each additional book.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Goodbye to Newspapers

Is it really goodbye to newspapers? One writer, Russell Baker, suggests this may be the case in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books.

The American press has the blues. Too many authorities have assured it that its days are numbered, too many good newspapers are in ruins. It has lost too much public respect. Courts that once treated it like a sleeping tiger now taunt it with insolent subpoenas and put in jail reporters who refuse to play ball with prosecutors. It is abused relentlessly on talk radio and in Internet blogs. It is easily bullied into acquiescing in the designs of a presidential propaganda machine determined to dominate the news.

Its advertising and circulation are being drained away by the Internet, and its owners seem stricken by a failure of the entrepreneurial imagination needed to prosper in the electronic age. Surveys showing that more and more young people get their news from television and computers breed a melancholy sense that the press is yesteryear's thing, a horse-drawn buggy on an eight-lane interstate.

Then there are the embarrassments: hoaxers like Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass turn journalism into farce. The elite Washington press corps is bamboozled into helping a circle of neoconservative connivers create the Iraq war. What became of heroes? Journalists used to dine out on the deeds of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein during Watergate; of David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, and Malcolm Browne in Vietnam; of "Punch" Sulzberger and Kay Graham risking everything to publish the Pentagon Papers. Instead of heroes, today's table talk is about journalistic frauds and a Washington press too dim to stay out of a three-card-monte game.

Read the rest of the article online for free HERE.

The article is worth reading and raises some important issues. What do you think?

Do "Harry Potter" Books Damage Image of Journalists?

Over the last several years the journalism profession has taken a lot of hits. Headlines on topics like unethical practices among journalists, accusations of media bias, loss of circulation make it seem that journalism is in a downward spin.

One researcher at the University of Missouri decided to investigate the impact of popular literature on the image of journalism. Specifically, the student asked whether or not the portrayal of journalists in the Harry Potter books negatively impacted young readers' perceptions. Much to his surprise, the MU reseacher found the opposite to be true.

When it comes to how journalists are portrayed in J.K. Rowling's immensely popular Harry Potter book series, University of Missouri-Columbia doctoral student Daxton R. "Chip" Stewart expected perceptions to meet reality. The negative depiction of Rita Skeeter and the Daily Prophet, Stewart figured, would push readers' attitudes toward journalists in an adverse direction.

A recent study of 657 students at MU, however, proved differently.

"Basically, I did a media effects study of Harry Potter reading to see if the negative image of journalists in the books carried over," Stewart said. "I expected kids who read the books, particularly the fourth and fifth books, to have more negative thoughts about news media credibility. Instead, the study showed that Harry Potter readers had greater feelings about media credibility in spite of the negative portrayal."

The study employed second-level agenda setting theory to provide a framework for examining any effects that could result from Rowling's choice of attributes associated with journalists, such as untrustworthiness, immorality and lack of credibility. Second-level agenda setting maintains that news media - and in this case entertainment media - not only tells us what events and issues to think about, but also how to think about them.

The subjects of the study were non-journalism students who ranged in age from 18-22. First-year students were chosen because they were most likely to be born between 1987 and 1989, making them between the ages of 10 and 12 when the books began to peak in popularity in 1999. Participants were given either extra credit or entered into a drawing for $100 as an inducement to take part in the Internet survey, which was held over a three-week period in February 2007.

Five scales were created to measure the attributes identified in the framing analysis, i.e. journalists invade people's privacy, and readers’ responses were compared to those of non-readers. Across the board, readers of the fourth and fifth Harry Potter books showed less salience of negative attributes, suggesting that readers had more positive views of journalists.

Next week, I'll take another look at journalism and democracy.