July 26, 2011
In what is a wise and I hope foresighted decision ABC is the first of the big 3 networks to say it won’t continue to pay licensing fees associated with securing major interviews.
ABC ends checkbook journalism, will no longer pay for interviews appearing on the Poynter website includes a quote that ABC News President Ben Sherwoood, “concluded that the cash-register approach to journalism was starting to tarnish the network’s credibility, even though the practice was relatively infrequent.”
That’s putting a good spin on it. Paying for access, paying large sums including $200,000 to Casey Anthony was just one in a series of stories that date back many years and include free travel, accommodations, gifts and more to secure prominent interviewees.
I’ve been critical calling the practice perverse and decrying the practice of raining money for some time.
Admittedly I have witnessed examples of this practice by all major broadcast and cable networks and been personally involved in such stories – and while I found the practice distasteful I admit that I too had involvement.
ABC deserves major kudos for breaking away from this practice. The audience is better served. The business of journalism is better for their decision. The network is at risk of losing some “exclusives” but in the world where that word has lost all meaning, relevance and importance, it is a courageous step and the network has earned acknowledgement.
It’s been going on since before the verdict but now the bidding war for Casey Anthony’s story has gone big time with attorneys holed up in pricey New York hotels as they negotiate Casey for her licensing rights. That’s right – network’s don’t pay for interviews so instead they offer lavish treatment and buy the rights to photographs and other family memorabilia; it’s called the licensing rights for everything surrounding her actual tell-all tale. Payola by any other name is still wrong.
Postings in social media on this are colorful ranging from outrage and revulsion to snide comments about the ethics (or lack thereof) involved in even considering buying her story, much less rewarding her. None of this is new. None is shocking. It is what tabloids and quick-books have made fortunes on over the years. The networks should not be blamed – they are selling a product and need to corner an ever shrinking piece of the viewer’s loyalty. Sadly this is being done under the banner of news, but that seems to cause few any pain or difficulty.
Meanwhile – Casey may be in Palm Springs according to some… while cross country her lawyers are no doubt turning up the heat in their bidding war… and the weatherman said it was going to be a scorcher in New York today. No doubt.
July 11, 2011
Paying for interviews is against network standards but there is nothing prohibiting payments for licensing rights and other perks paid to news sources and potential interviewees. The latest? A two-hundred thousand dollar ($200,000.00) payment to Casey Anthony! It isn’t new – it happened as recently as last night (Sunday)with a six figure deal with Jaycee Dugard and her publisher for a ‘first-look’ at her story. It has happened over many years – and each network is guilty of doing it, although ABC and NBC have been in a more financially secure position reportedly to be more lavish in their offers.
And don’t think that money only flows to the victims or good guys in such stories. Two networks were in a fierce bidding war for the songbook of Phillip Garrido – Dugard’s admitted captor and rapist – shortly after the story broke. Attorneys representing a friend of Mr. Garrido received six figure offerings for his songs which included lurid details of a cross country sex odyssey and other perversions.
The audience doesn’t seem to see a difference between paying for news or paying for access. In a celebrity driven world it seems as if we have become accustomed to the habit of stars and news makers wanting to be compensated for their first hand stories. Networks have been more than obliging in paying sums for what guarantees them the right to brand the interview an “exclusive”. But does all this loot change the story – does more money make it ever so much more necessary to add an adjective or color the telling of a story in a particular way to make it seem worth the cash? One cannot demand top dollar and then disappoint the paymaster. It wouldn’t be good for business, especially when that is show business.
It may be good for business but it is bad for ethics, and there’s just no way around that.
Paying for News Interviews – is it ethical or just another example of: it’s not personal it’s business?
June 21, 2011
Paying for interviews? Rewarding executives or news makers or personalities for their bon mots?
Not in the old days – not when news wasn’t expected to make money – not before corporate ownership took hold and made news divisions responsible for their bottom line and turning a profit. But now, in the wild west of media frenzies thanks to networks, tabloids and scandal sheets, it’s anything goes – and the highest bidder may win, regardless of the terms or conditions associated with the interviewees’ demand.
This For Instant Ratings, Interviews With a Checkbook in a recent New York Times received very little attention, or so it seemed to me. I would have expected, maybe just hoped, for more attention to be paid to the consequences.
Once upon a time people appeared on media because it was truly an opportunity to reach a mass audience. Now thanks to a plethora of media there’s little doubt that any one can get attention, some times far too much or unwarranted attention.
Paying for interviews – or rather for access is not new. The Times piece makes it seem as if it is a recent development… it has existed for years – prime time programs have done it, programs with the most prominent of news anchors have done it. A wink and a nod and money is paid for family photos or archive material in the thin guise that this is the cover for what will become a guaranteed interview with the personality too.
It can be paid to the prospective interviewees, or it may come in the form of lavish wining and dining for friends or families. It happened during the Koby Bryant case, for John Mark Karr who confessed to the Jon Benet Ramsey killing, even to people associated with Phil Garrido who recently plead guilty to the kidnapping and rape of Jaycee Dugard. It’s just not new. And it feels skanky to do it – even when under the direct instructions of senior news managers in New York.
There are so many questions – if you pay, will some one be more forthcoming? If you pay too little, will they hold back? If you pay for one media does that count if some one else pays more for a different platform? Does payment change their story – are they more likely to juice it up to hike the price, or claim to know more than they really do — but money makes them be bold, even to the point of lying?
News divisions once had a policy that prohibited paying any one for a news story. That existed as a fire wall within news, but was not as rigid for prime time magazines or the morning shows which at some networks are produced by the entertainment divisions. Times have changed. Networks demand all programs produce a profit. And now news figures – even temporary news headliners – are sought after as exclusives. They may or may not have much to say – they may not even offer much to discourse or common knowledge – but they command payments just to speak. I don’t feel good about a lot of this whatsoever.
April 7, 2011
Donald Trump in his fledgling try for the White House in 2012 is offering an astounding number of bromides and platitudes, braggadocio and bombast in his wave of TV interviews from O’Reilly (FOX) to Today (NBC). From the old saw of the birther’s claim that the president lacks his US birth certificate to matters of state Mr. Trump seems well prepared to talk over any and all other questions while repeatedly repeating all his preconceived message points. He knows how to talk, and talk, and talk.
In response to a question of what the President (Obama) has done well, Trump replied “he got elected.”
In response to the lack of a national budget Trump assured listeners it was due entirely to “a lack of leadership” that wouldn’t be the case if he was sitting in the oval office.
In response to a question on foreign policy he expounded that the “United States isn’t respected” any longer by the rest of the world.
In fairness questions that were posited to how he would change this if elected but they were parried and thwarted and never answered. The ‘how” of what would be different is often the most important question — not the if or the dreams or desires for change, but rather the execution, the how. Mr. Trump offered nothing to that debate or discourse.
Taking just the question of how the rest of the world may see us… after years of financially and militarily supporting dictatorial regimes all to assure the stable supply of crude oil to fill our gas-guzzling economy, or the nature of avaricious conduct in pursuit of minerals and raw materials to satiate our economic demands at the cost of local economies and indigenous people… these are the core issues of why we’re not liked, not respected. Having the biggest stick, the greater swagger, the most shiny boots on the ground isn’t sufficient to master world respect, much less domination. Assuring audiences this would all ‘be changed’ once he gets to the White House seems insufficient and unrealistic.
The media – all of us who are in charge of the microphone – better start asking the ‘how’ as the 2012 campaign gets underway. There’s likely to be a lot of noise in the coming months – but rather than just close our ears we could decide to have greater impact by thinking about and demanding answers to the real questions. Let’s start with ‘how’?
December 6, 2010
David Carr’s To Beat Today, Look to Tomorrow is a thoughtful compendium of what’s wrong with morning news. Those stalwart morning shows… on ABC, CBS or NBC are hardly news any more, certainly not often news-worthy and more often news-light.
Soft features that once would never see airtime in what was once called the 7 o’clock “hard news hour” now dominate and sometimes even lead the broadcasts. Editorial-lite, anchor-intense gabfest now proliferate where once pointed interviews were the morning staple.
News was made – people wanted to be heard making news – programs wanted to break news – politicians and others were expected (and perhaps at times were excited) to appear and speak the truth (that’s news!) as the business day began.
What has caused the change? Not that long ago news makers who said quote-worthy things on a morning show set the agenda for the day to follow. They were even used as snippets in subsequent broadcasts. How long has it been since that happened?
When did TV News lose its balls? When did TV news decide it was better to get the interview and promise not to offend than to actually hold people accountable and perhaps, dare even, make news in the process?
Is it some sort of unwritten code not to be tough? Is it the result of cut-throat competition that has resulted in a broadcast environment of pabulum? Or perhaps what is more likely, did news producers find their legs cut from beneath them by corporate ownership (Viacom, GE, Disney) that is more concerned with legislation and other corporate divisions than they are devoted to their news operations and even concerned for the absence of what once passed for content?
Ok, for disclosure – as a freelancer I do work for more than one of these morning broadcasts 0r their cable cousins, albeit far from the decision centers on West 57th Street, Times Square or 30 Rock.
Guests are fawned over – given fruit baskets with notes signed from “their friends and family at XYZ news”. Yes, God’s truth… that’s what I and others have been instructed to write. I have declined.
I have noted over the years the news divisions sway over the content seems to have been minimized – the intensity of the questioning has been lessened. In its place we see a zeal for getting the guest – for proclaiming it an exclusive even when there was no competition for the story itself.
Have we all deluded ourselves into believing that the audience cared about an exclusive that was, on its merits, not truly important? Does making a hullabaloo about an exclusive raise the story to be worthy of the water-cooler later in the day?
David Carr is correct. The morning news model is dated. Once there was a chance to earn greater interest because the shows were content heavy, compelling attention, and featuring well-written copy instead of largely ad-libbed repartee.
One day the audience might again demand more. Today in the 500 channel world of entertainment it seems as if too many stations – like CBS’ Early Show – are mired in repeating what is already shown elsewhere – echoing through the airwaves – instead of forging new ground.
So sure, toss out the old anchors. Pretend that’s the problem and the solution. If we are following the tried-and-true model of network production next the New York masterminds will once again remodel the show’s set and change graphics package for the program.
For when the anchor carnage doesn’t pan out, this will surely so the trick… after all we’ve experienced this before.
Older audiences for network newscasts may signal the death of the evening news – oh wait, maybe this obituary is already past due for newscasts that cost too much to produce for too little profit for too small an audience. That is a trifecta representing the end of news as we know it.
Audiences are aging and networks have largely failed to capture the attention or loyalty of the younger Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, Gen R and other audiences. As the network news audience ages the doom and gloom around those once proud organizations becomes more intense.
I’ve heard an internal number at ABC News shows the average World News Tonight audience is 61.3 years old. Public numbers are not as venerable. At that increasing age medical-pharmaceutical and a few other advertisers are about the only ones who will find this audience at all desirable.
It foretells the end of the evening news as we know it today. Is that a bad thing? Is this just another evolutionary step? In the cafeteria era of news, will the end even be noticed?
From TVNewser, “Report: Broadcast TV Aging Faster than the Population.
Broadcast television viewers are getting older at a faster rate than the general population, according to a new report from analyst Steve Sternberg.
The report does not mean that literally, of course, but rather the median age of network TV viewers continues to rise every year, outpacing the general public.
The median age for CBS last season as 55, with ABC at 51 and NBC 49. Fox, which does not have a network news division, was the youngest of the big four at 44 years old.
So what does it mean for broadcast TV news?
For network news divisions, the aging is troubling, but unlikely to affect their economics in the short term. With the proliferation of cable news outlets, broadcasters have already been hit hard, and seen their audiences erode over the last few years…
As a result CBS News and ABC News, which do not have cable networks to prop them up, have been through a series of devastating layoffs and cutbacks.
Because news shows typically sell ads targeting viewers 25-54 years old, it gives them more room to maneuver as the networks continue to age upward. Only CBS has a median age above the key demo.
Longer-term however, it is a troubling prospect. The entertainment programming typically drives most of the profits at the broadcasters, and as they age up and the audiences decline, the profits will get smaller.
Smaller profits means that the network will look for more ways to cut back. Those cutbacks could end up coming from the news divisions, with its already small margins.”
A Congressman’s Speech Goes Viral! Imagine media coverage of compelling national debate and dialogue? If only…
July 31, 2010
Let’s face it, congressional speeches rank pretty low on the media’s food chart of what New York based executives think American audiences care about. While there is still beat coverage on Capitol Hill, few speeches seem to make it on network radio or TV, and except for CSPAN, there is precious little video coverage of what’s said in the well of the House and Senate. What little is said is reduced to snippets of sound and not substantive blocks or speeches.
That’s what makes Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-NY) Thursday remarks about funding medical coverage for first responders to 9/11 all the more surprising. His passionate speech, some will call it angry and emotional, was aired on both morning and evening newscasts Friday. ABC’s World News Tonight treated it as a stand alone sound bite while NBC Nightly News incorporated it into a larger story. But 48 hours after his remarks, by midday Saturday, the speech was watched almost 500,000 times on You Tube alone.
This poses the question – was it because he was emotional or did it merely tap the emotional third rail represented by 9/11? Was that passion unusual for the House? Online coverage Congressman Anthony Weiner gets loud, calls out GOP for 9/11 health bill made reference to Weiner as a modern day Mr. Smith, a modern day James Stewart, the incarnate member of the Congress, imbued with passion and commitment and oratory.
From my perspective I wonder whether there is a greater-than-imagined appetite for stirring oratory? I wonder if the American media might steal a page from British coverage of Parliament, for instance Prime Minister’s Question Time, where there has always been greater attention paid to the spoken word and disagreement.
No doubt the overwhelming amount of live coverage from Congress, as well as state houses and local elected offices and boards, is dismal – stiff, formal, impersonal and quite often less than articulate. But it it refreshing to see and hear compelling speeches. And judging from the response to Representative Weiner, networks ought to take note that the public does feel well-served when they can hear and see for themselves.
On the face of this it is a risk of producing “boring” TV. Or is it?
May 20, 2010
This is just worth sharing… Score one for ethics and leadership
NBC STATION IN L.A. ADMITS NOT LIVING UP TO JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS
from StudioBriefing, May 19, 2010
The NBC-owned television station in Los Angeles on Tuesday announced the departure of its “vice president, content” and simultaneously admitted that it had not lived up to “journalistic standards” when it aired a faked report about new credit card rules in February. In today’s (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times, media columnist James Rainey said that Tuesday’s announcements by KNBC-TV represented the culmination of a “psychodrama” at the station that “has pitted traditional television journalists .. against a nouveau crowd of content creators who prefer their sizzle served up hot, preferably without much steak.” In the faked report, Rainey said, the station hired reality show producer Vicki Gunvalson, who interviewed friends about the new credit card rules, then passed the friends off as ordinary “men in the street.” The interviews, Rainey indicated, were conducted at an Orange County boutique, owned by another friend of Gunvalson. A spokesman for the station told Rainey that it is “taking steps to prevent this from happening again.”
May 9, 2010
News producers, managers and all those create news – the content which is the stuff that keeps the soap commercials from bumping in to one another – seem to me to be more frantic, ever-so-driven to capture and hold their audiences. More than ever before it seems that they too have drunk the Kool-Aide and now piously justify their hype as necessary to lure and secure audiences. Sadly though this is getting sillier and sillier as boasts are proclaimed that cannot be defended, promises are assured that cannot be delivered, and audiences – like you and me – feel more cheated.
It just feels like an era of news abuse – instead of trust – is in vogue and in turn, professionals are defending what is indefensible, hype.
For instance on a weekend report about the death of a University of Virginia co-ed the network anchors assuredly promise “we’ll have the latest on the investigation when we return.” Really? On a Saturday? On a Saturday when investigators are not visible to the media and when there has been no news release from the police. So the latest is… actually, when? Yesterday! And so it has already been… reported? And when? Yesterday! And so the boast of having the latest news coming up is really just a… hype? A tease? And that’s somehow OK… or if as professionals you knew there was truly nothing new, was the hype a lie? A white lie? Or just a plain old-fashioned whopper since it was uttered with the prior knowledge that it was untrue.
Or for instance the Today show used the word “Exclusive” six (6) times about a single guest. Exclusive appeared twice in anchor copy and four times as a graphic. Are producers so desperate to convey the appearance of superior coverage that they cannot let that content speak for itself but must instead wrap it with banners and bravado to drive the point home? Or maybe there is such churn in the viewership that the constant reminders of exclusivity are the only hooks remaining to lure viewers? But if that’s the case then all the exclusives that appear day in and day out are not attracting audiences but may instead be repelling viewers who are tired of being abused with adjectives masquerading as important content.
It seems the corruption of the profession runs deep… as deep as our own self-identity. A national radio show on journalism featured a guest who said, “reporters are now packagers” of news and claimed that he didn’t need to report because he had sufficient “listening posts” to tell him what was going on. It feels a little absurd to ask, but I am mystified because if reporters are not going to report, then who is? And listening posts, who are they… and how do we trust his definition of who is responsible, and ultimately, who is vouching for them? It is the proverbial slippery slope and, whoops! We’ve started sliding.
Another panelist on this NPR program spoke of reporters whose job it was to now contextualize the news. And a third said it was now completely correct for reporters to have an opinion and allow that to be reflected in their work. I always thought that was opinion… not reporting. Isn’t that what Op-Ed pages and Editorials are for? Is the new era of reporting relegating those columns to the dust bin of old journalism too?
We’re mired in the new words of the language – we have “commoditized” news to the point that it is most important to monetize it… even at risk of becoming homogenized content so as not to offend or challenge any one. We are all now “content producers” which I suppose means we are all – as I am here – able to write and self publish, somewhat regardless of our authority or authenticity. We speak passionately of being in touch or tune with our communities, although that seeks somewhat murky and ill-defined. Is my community that of those who are overweight white 50-somethings of general affluence living in well-to-do communities featuring overpriced homes that represent much of our life-worth and that we fear could be depreciating in the current economic downturn? Is that my community? And if it is, pray tell, how is any one going to monetize me?
Look – the point is this – let’s watch our words. Our boasts. Our claims when we really know better. Words matter. That’s my clarion call. Let’s think about the new clichés that serve little purpose but to make us sound au courant and quote-worthy. Adjectives are colorful but when we use them intentionally to be misleading aren’t we all guilty of cheapening our profession? Of course. What’s wrong with reporting being the benchmark of what’s important, significant – the adage: news is the first draft of history?
What do you think? Leave a comment… let me know.