Ted Koppel Pens First Piece as ‘NY Times’ Columnist–Comes Out Swinging

By: E&P Staff

In his first contribution after being named a New York Times columnist, former ABC newsman Ted Koppel declares, “I cannot help but see that the industry in which I have spent my entire adult life is in decline and in distress.”

Koppel raps the new “calculated subjectivity” and forced empathy of cable news, and adds: “The accusation that television news has a political agenda misses the point. Right now, the main agenda is to give people what they want. It is not partisanship but profitability that shapes what you see.”

But his view is that journalists “should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around. “

In a surprise conclusion, he suggests that perhaps rather than aiming news shows at the disinterested younger segment, the networks should focus on serving older consumers who actually are interested in serious news. (Is there a lesson for newspapers here?)

The goal for the traditional broadcast networks now “is to identify those segments of the audience considered most desirable by the advertising community and then to cater to them,” Koppel writes. “Most television news programs are therefore designed to satisfy the perceived appetites of our audiences. That may be not only acceptable but unavoidable in entertainment; in news, however, it is the journalists who should be telling their viewers what is important, not the other way around.

“Indeed, in television news these days, the programs are being shaped to attract, most particularly, 18-to-34-year-old viewers. They, in turn, are presumed to be partly brain-dead ? though not so insensible as to be unmoved by the blandishments of sponsors.

“Most particularly on cable news, a calculated subjectivity has, indeed, displaced the old-fashioned goal of conveying the news dispassionately. But that, too, has less to do with partisan politics than simple capitalism.” Koppel knocks CNN’s new emphasis on journalism-by-empathy, and observes: “Even Fox News’s product has less to do with ideology and more to do with changing business models…

“Now, television news should not become a sort of intellectual broccoli to be jammed down our viewers’ unwilling throats. We are obliged to make our offerings as palatable as possible. But there are too many important things happening in the world today to allow the diet to be determined to such a degree by the popular tastes of a relatively narrow and apparently uninterested demographic….

“If the network news divisions cannot be convinced that their future depends on attracting all demographic groups, then perhaps, at least, they can be persuaded to aim for the largest single demographic with the most disposable income ? one that may actually have an appetite for serious news. That would seem like a no-brainer. “

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