April 17, 2008

Ripping Them A New One

I firmly believe that every news organization should have a columnist (an opinion journalist who operates as a custodian of fact with a discipline of verification) whose job it is to get in the face of every other news organization in the market. I think news orgs need to be critiquing the competition regularly in regard to news values, editorial judgment, and ethics.

I have two reasons for this:

1. News organizations are culturally, politically, and economically important institutions that should never be above scrutiny by journalism. (Note: I do not equate the two because the former is one potential producer of the latter.)

2. Such coverage can be smashing good copy that informs and–dare I say it?–entertains. Oh, and perhaps this smashing good copy might do some real good.

Here’s an interesting example of exactly what I mean. The keisters of Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos should be right properly smarting today. Now, we know that these guys are unlikely to change much of anything following Shales’ withering critique. But just think what could happen if it were Shales’ job to keep this up. Think what could happen if the Post backed this up with an editorial about the news values, editorial judgment, and ethics of ABC News.

(Yes, there are many media columnists. Howard Kurtz for example. But I’m not talking about general media criticism. I’m talking about focused and sustained coverage of specific news orgs by competing news orgs and backed up by the voice of the news org.)

I’m not a big fan of news competition for stories. That era is really dead now thanks to television and the internet. But I think news organizations could, and ought to, compete over news values, editorial judgment, and ethics. Rub the competition’s nose in its mistakes. Rip them a new one. And do a better job yourself.

6 Responses

  1. Sven 

    “Look, all I’m saying is if you’re going to hustle, at least do it right.”

  2. acline 

    Hahaha! Good one 🙂

  3. Sven 

    But seriously, I don’t think Chayefsky could have imagined this scenario.

    – Sen. Bob Casey picks Latrobe, Pa., as a backdrop for his endorsement of Obama because of it’s “blue-collar credentials.”

    – The New York Times follows up with a story speculating about how many of Latrobe’s residents’ objections to Obama may be cover for being uncomfortable voting for a black man.

    – Controversy “erupts” after said black man comments on said blue-collar white folk’s bitterness to a bunch of rich white people in, of all places, San Francisco.

    – ABC decides to engineer a confrontation between Obama and one of the people quoted in the NYT story. Said person asks if Obama “believes in the flag.”

    – McClatchy follows up with flag lady, who says her concerns really have nothing to do with the flag. She’s been through some tough economic times, is, um, bitter about it and is angry at Obama for taking “everything so nonchalantly.” (Perhaps instead of mnaking cryptic comments about flag pins, she should have said ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, Goddamnit! My life has VALUE!’)

    – George Stephanopoulos, who in the 1992 docudrama The War Room was shocked – shocked! – by a reporter asked him about his candidates’ marital infidelity and tells said reporter in so many words that “he’ll never work in this town again!” now tells us that these are the kinds of issues the ‘Merican people are interested in.

    Jaysus, somebody please call rewrite!

  4. acline 

    I told a classroom full of students once that the genius of the movie Network could be found in its prophesy. But, perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps we’ve moved farther down that road to…where?

  5. Isn’t one of the critical problems here that news organizations inherently avoid this exactly because they do not want to be held to higher standards?

  6. acline 

    J- Not quite. The attitude is more complex than that. The institution of journalism partly doesn’t see itself as part of the problem. Its mythology teaches that it is the watchdog and so in itself doesn’t need watching.

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