Why does the public think media misbehavior is new? Or is the media to blame?

Lauren McGaughy has written a thoughtful story in the Dallas Morning News about how the media’s onslaught on a story can be as traumatizing as the tragedy they’re covering.

A town, even a neighborhood is transformed by a media scrum, and as a consequence the media often gets a black eye in the aftermath.

Sure stories like this are often true, or have an element of truth to them. More true now by electronic media than even 30 years ago when there were just 3 networks and a handful of local affiliates, contrasted now to 5 major English language networks (6 if you include the Associate Press’ TV service), 2 Spanish language domestic networks, and literally scores of stations reporting in multiple languages to a global audience.

Plus radio… plus wire services… plus newspapers.

It is easy to criticize all this. The din of the media is overwhelming. The press of the pack is as unrelenting as their deadlines.

Live shots, exclusives, TV bookers clicking along the sidewalks searching for and enticing victims and their families with free trips to New York to sit on the set of morning talk shows where anchors can profess their emotion and sorrow, sometimes even offered on behalf of “all of us” in TV land.

We do live in an era where the technology has altered the way stories are covered. What used to be a more measured, even methodical pace has been transformed into an unimaginable pressure cooker of competition for the infamous and unrelenting 24/7 news cycle.

The audience expects, partly because we in the media have created this expectation, that entire stories from crime to investigation to resolution can be completed in a day, or perhaps as quickly as a 48 minute episode of Law and Order.

But Ms. McGaughy, criticism of the media is not new. The earliest reference to press-misbehavior (that I can remember) stems from Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page. But in this single graph it reminds us that we should keep check on our behavior with an eye to the larger picture of life.

“Bunch of crazy buttinskies with dandruff on their shoulders and holes in their
pants.
Peeking through keyholes, waking people up in the middle of the night to ask them
what they think about Aimee Semple McPherson.
Stealing pictures off old ladies of their daughters that get raped in Oak Park.
And for what?
So a million shop girls and motormen’s wives can get their jollies.
And the next day, somebody wraps the front page around a dead mackerel.”

The people of Sutherland Springs certainly did not ask for the spotlight on their community. They deserved to be treated fairly and professionally, their stories shared but their grief not exploited.

Ethics classes and discussions can prepare this intellectually, but some of that seems to be bent and challenged in real world applications. We’d like to see all this in Manichean terms but we live out lives in the nuance of grey, and can only do our best to do it well in every respect.

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Social Media Gone Vile

Early Friday the profession of the media lost one of it’s finest craftsman when former ABC and CBS correspondent Richard Threlkeld was killed in a traffic accident on Long Island, New York. The local paper Newsday filed a picture along with their story Richard Threlkeld, former CBS newsman killed in crash and that has unleased a cascade of comments taking issue with bumper stickers on Threlkeld’s car – labeling him part of the ‘liberal”, “biased”, an “Obama supporter” and member of the “lametsream” media. Inaccurate since the title of the article described Threlkeld as a ‘former” newsman… no longer in the profession and free to advocate for any position he might choose.

But the question that is more appalling, and frightening, is what is it – even in death – that makes people feel that social media is a forum for invective — even it seems about some one they don’t know personally? What is it about the anger that seems to exist, just simmering at the surface of too many people’s daily lives? What did happen to all those cries for greater civility following the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gifford just a year ago.

Or, just as challenging, what is it about the media that seems to have raised such hatred, distrust and anger among some consumers? Obviously those who made these insulting and personal remarks are consumers of media – they read the Newsday article and then felt perfectly OK to make judgments about the victim.

The ability to make comments is of course protected free speech. But the anger, the rush to judgment, the inappropriateness of the timing of these comments gives me pause.

Veteran Correspondent Richard Threlkeld – RIP

Dick Threlkeld was a masterful writer, story teller, correspondent and a good friend of both my father during the Vietnam war and me when Dick and I both worked at CBS and ABC on the US west coast.
He was a craftsman – a wordsmith – a gentleman – a friend.

From the Associate Press

By FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Richard Threlkeld, a far-ranging and award-winning correspondent who worked for both CBS and ABC News during a long career, has been killed in a car accident, CBS said.
The 74-year-old Threlkeld died Friday morning in Amagansett, N.Y., and was pronounced dead at Southampton Hospital. He lived in nearby East Hampton.
Threlkeld spent more than 25 years at CBS News, retiring in 1998. He was a reporter, anchor and bureau chief. He covered the Persian Gulf War and the Vietnam War, the Patty Hearst kidnapping and trial, and the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
He worked alongside Lesley Stahl as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” from 1977-79, and reported for “CBS Sunday Morning” from its inception in 1979, as well as for “The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather.”
In 1981, Threlkeld decided to go to up-and-coming ABC News without fanfare and without telling CBS.
“I don’t like to horse trade. I’m not a horse,” Threlkeld told The Associated Press at the time. “After I decided ABC was the best place for me to go, it would have been wrong to make a verbal agreement and take it back to CBS to see what they could do.”
At ABC News, he served as a national correspondent for “World News Tonight.”

Iowa & Retail Politics – then why are we only hearing from the pundits and anchors?

In Iowa and New Hampshire – two small states known for their tradition of retail politics – why do we hear anchors and pundits tell us this repeatedly while there never seems to be time to hear the candidates speaking to voters? Or even more daring, why don’t we hear much of what the prospective voters think after meeting and shaking the candidate’s hands?
This is more than a sound bite – more than 10 seconds – more than rhetoric.
More than a talking point heard before or a rebuttal to some other campaign assertion.

There seems to be a disconnect. This isn’t intended as a riddle. But the coverage assures us that these are states where the candidates are saturating every town, township, city and opportunity to press the flesh and yet the coverage shows instead, primarily, the anchors and pundits talking about voter reaction instead of allowing us to hear and judge for ourselves.
In an environment with so much available air time why isn’t some network allowing time for the story to breath?

Real news doesn’t include nipple slips

Once upon a time when news was not a commodity and what was editorially selected for print or broadcast was of the most pressing nature so that it deserved reporting, there were fewer stories about incidental nudity or wardrobe malfunctions.

But Nicki Minaj Nip Slip During “Good Morning America” today this has become news… It doesn’t matter which network – or how it happened – or if it was incidental or accidental. This is now grist for the content wheel. And it is, forgive me, awfully superficial stuff.

And here is a worthy-to-be-remembered apologetic quote using the term “regrettably.” From TV Newser, “ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, “Although we had a five-second delay in place, the live East Coast feed of the concert regrettably included certain fleeting images of the performer that were taken out of later feeds in other time zones. We are sorry that this occurred.”

And then – adding this, again from TV Newser, “TMZ spoke with the Parents Television Council: “For the umpteenth time in recent memory a morning news show has included inappropriate content for children and families.” It prompts me to ask — the “umpteenth time”? Did I miss so many of the others? How can they be so carried away with hyperbole – “the umpteenth time”? I guess we should ask for their list (Hah!) – or maybe just watch morning news more carefully.

Maybe this is just a Saturday story… but here’s the point. Until you can put a smoking gun in the hands of the ABC producers and prove they intended this to happen, which I don’t think is even remotely reasonable, can’t we just move on? Is this a worthy-to-be-reported story?

It would seem that there are are more editorially worthwhile things to discuss. My argument here is: this isn’t news. It isn’t fashion. It seems at best to be an isolated and fleeting screw up.

Content matters – this even isn’t worthy. Even by ranting I have given it undue prominence. I guess I just wanted to make a clean breast of how I felt.

Fed Ct Rules Public Can Make Photographs of Public Buildings – What would seem like a given right has been restored by Homeland Security

How many of us have been stopped, hassled and at times subjected to a Torquemada inquisition over taking pictures of the exterior of a Federal Building?

A Federal Court has ruled the public may make pictures and Homeland Security has changed the rules instructing their security officers not to prohibit or infringe on the public’s right.

Worth printing and having as part of your kit.

A longer version appears here.

The Buck Stops Now – ABC to Stop Paying for Interviews

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.

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.