Has Journalism Run Amok In Sensationalism? p. 9

By: M.L. Stein Two veteran newsmen believe important stories are often
ignored in favor of titillating scandal, and there's too
much coverage of journalists talking to other journalists sp.

A PULITZER PRIZE-winning reporter and a network anchorman came to a similar conclusion about the state of journalism today ? that it's run amok in scandal and sensationalism while important news is often ignored.
Los Angeles Times Washington bureau chief Jack Nelson and NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw offered their views in Los Angeles at the recent University of Southern California (USC) Journalism Alumni Association's 34th annual Distinguished Achievement in Journalism awards.
Honored were Brokaw, New Yorker magazine editor Tina Brown, and Cable News Network (CNN).
Recalling the press's bludgeoning and frequent ridiculing of presidents from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, Nelson, the event's master of ceremonies, commented: "It all makes one wonder if something is intrinsically wrong with the political process, the institution of the presidency, the press, or all three."
Of the press, Nelson posed this question: "Have we gotten to where we too often focus much more on personalities and process rather than on policy, much more on confrontation and the negative than on consensus and the positive?"
Nelson acknowledged that media pillorying of public figures is not new but contended that the condition has become much worse with the proliferation of network television's so-called news magazines and talk radio programs that focus on celebrity scandal and sensationalism.
"The result too often," he continued, "has been tabloidization of the mainstream press, which has a responsibility to help society solve problems, inform the public on how government is operating and give the public something other than the government's own version of what the government is doing."
Nelson said there must be trust between the public and the press, a difficult achievement in view of national polls showing a deep distrust of both newspapers and TV newscasts.
He cited a Times Mirror poll revealing that 71% of Americans "not only don't think we help solve problems but actually think the press gets in the way of society solving its problems."
Brokaw was equally concerned about the state of journalism today.
Deriding the "well-worn barricade" erected by reporters in saying, 'I only report the news; I don't make it,' " Brokaw said such a defense "leaves out the most critical part of that equation: 'I only report the news I select.' "
He suggested the national media ? both print and electronic ? ask itself if it "has contributed to the national anxiety and sense of outrage about government by magnifying personality flaws and institutional lapses without providing a policy context."
Brokaw also deplored the trend in Washington of reporters "talking ? more accurately, shouting ? at each other in pseudo information formats.
"Whatever happened to the notion that reporters should interview policy-makers, senators, governors, congressmen?" he asked.
Brokaw labeled the reporter-to-reporter talk fests as "televised mud wrestling," which widens the gulf between Washington and the rest of the country and blurs the line between reporting and commentary.
"In Washington," he observed, "reporters are often afflicted with Newsheimer's disease ? an affliction that causes you to remember everyone's mistakes but your own."
The problem isn't only in Washington, Brokaw contended. He said he was appalled by the lack of public-policy reporting at local stations.
"We cannot live on the stuff of O.J. [Simpson] alone, although it's a great story," Brokaw said. "There is a demonstrated interest in the big picture and the minutiae."
CNN executive vice president Ed Turner, who accepted the award for the network, also advised journalists and journalism to improve their coverage of politics and government, in the wake of the recent election in which voters indicated they were not satisfied with the way the country is being run.
"Respect for institutions seems to be an at all-time low, and that includes the mainstream news companies of the country," Turner added. "At the local and national level, we in TV news should be expected to live up to our responsibilities to report on the news that is dull and important as well as the ongoing drama of the O.J.'s of the world."
In explaining the New Yorker's switch from a purely literary and humor magazine to one with a more topical content, Brown said she learned in her previous editorship of Vanity Fair that "the more substance we put in the magazine, the more it sold."
The changeover, she said, has resulted in adding 225,000 new, younger readers to the New Yorker while keeping the older ones.
She described the publication as a "combination of the timely and the timeless" to woo the busy modern reader, citing Joseph Brodskey's 15,000-word piece on Robert Frost's work as an example.
The New Yorker staff, Brown related, thinks of its efforts as a "war for literacy, a war for civilized discourse, and a war to create and sustain an audience for seriousness."
The awards dinner also was the occasion for the announcement that Murray Fromson, a former Associated Press and CBS foreign correspondent, was named director of the USC School of Journalism. Fromson, who had been interim director, noted that the school has been absorbed into the new Annenberg School of Communications, which has benefited from a $120-million gift from Walter Annenberg.
Fromson, however, predicted that little of the money will go to the journalism school, the bulk being reserved for research and "new innovations in communications.
"Journalism education at USC will survive and thrive only with the help of those individuals and media foundations or philanthropic programs that believe in journalism itself," he said.
?(In Washington, reporters are often afflicted with Newsheimer's disease-an affliction that causes you to remember everyone's mistakes but your own." ) [Caption]
?( Tom Brokow) [Photo]


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here