June 9, 2009


These are not secrets: 1) The business of news organizations is selling eyeballs and ears to advertisers, and 2) The eyeballs and ears show up for the news content, not the advertising. From these two truths (and a few others) comes a long-established ethic in journalism, as stated by the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists:

Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

A good code of ethics should leave room for interpretation, otherwise it will be a rigid and useless set of rules that cover only a narrow range of ethical situations. Given that, these normative statements seem very clear to me in regard to Jon Stewart’s proper lambasting of MSNBC’s Morning Joe sellout to Starbucks.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Morning Joe’s Sarcastic Starbucks Sponsorship
Daily Show
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Political Humor Economic Crisis

In the next segment, Stewart did nothing more than point out the awful truth about where cable TV news is right now.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
“i” on News
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Economic Crisis

Question: Is this what citizens really want from journalism?

Possible answers:

  1. Yes.
  2. Good citizens have moved on. Why do you think readership and viewership is shrinking?

Seriously, folks. Wanna “save” journalism? Try being serious.

6 Responses

  1. Jason 

    Stewart is hilarious.

  2. Sven 

    OTM had a great segment on product placement a while back. They note that Colbert shills for Doritos “ironically.” There’s about 30 layers of meta going on there.

  3. re “Try being serious” – what’s scary, is to look back at newspaper archives from the 1960s and 70s. They printed news, not “missing white girl of the month” stuff. Even tiny papers printed investigative journalism, by running Jack Anderson’s column.

    Why is there no Jack Anderson equivalent, today?

  4. acline 

    Anna… Short (over-generalized) answer: Opinion journalism is dead. It was replaced with punditry.

  5. Sven 

    Hmmm. Don’t know about that. Jack Anderson was like Hunter Thompson in being a unique, hard-to-replicate character. And we don’t memorialize the many, many claptrap columnists.

    I think there’s a parallel with Hollywood here. We remember all the fantastic cinema produced in the ’70s and lament the over commercialized mainstream garbage we endure today. But there was a lot of produced crap back then. And there’s arguably a higher quantity of quality cinema being produced now..if you know where to find it.

    I came across this the other day. At first glance, it’s very silly. An Abbott & Costello routine in the form of an IM chat posted on a blog. But I think it contains some devastatingly effective and serious criticism. YMMV.

  6. re Jack Anderson’s column, this could be a separate-but-equal equivalent –
    AP to distribute work by four nonprofit investigative journalism organizations