Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Development of the CBS News Guidelines during the Salant Years

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

The Development of the CBS News Guidelines during the Salant Years

Article excerpt

Of the major U.S. television networks, CBS alone has consistently made its book of news standards and practices publicly available to critics and other interested parties.(1) The network policies were revised, compiled into a single book. and published during the time when Richard S. Salant managed CBS News from 1961-1964 and 1966-1979 (Bliss, 1993; Lambert 1993). The book of news standards first distributed in 1976 was still disseminated in the 1990s.

The development and dissemination of guidelines were hardly the crowning achievement of CBS News during this period, as the organization grew in both scope and reputation.

The CBS News that Salant was handed in 1961 had an annual budget of $20

million and a full-time staff of 469 people. By 1979, when he left, the CBS

News budget was nearly $90 million and the organization employed 1,000

people. In Salant's time Walter Cronkite became the anchor of CBS Evening

News, the broadcast expanded to thirty minutes, 60 Minutes was created, and

CBS came to dominate television news the way it had once dominated radio.

But those things might have happened under another executive. Dick Salant's

contribution to a CBS News that was defining itself in me unfolding

television age was something infinitely more valuable: He gave it

character. Boyer, 1988, p. 12)

Despite the obvious advances in the News Division, some of Salant's subordinates resisted management efforts to codify news standards. These journalists considered the written policies to be inflexible and impractical (Leonard, 1987; G. Manning [Vice-President for hard news at CBS News], personal communication, March 25, 1996 and June 12, 1997). CBS reporter Andy Rooney (1993), who generally praised Salant's leadership, described the rigid standards as "dismaying to those of us trying to produce broadcasts" (p. 15).

The guidelines were compiled during a time of unprecedented conflict between broadcast journalists and elected officials. Alexander (1988), Handelman (1979), Powledge (1971), Smith (1972), and Willis (1987) write that conservatives in Congress and the Nixon Administration accused CBS of liberal ideological leanings and elitism. U. S. network news organizations were forced to struggle with subpoenas and "truth in broadcasting" legislation (Congressional Record [CR], 1971, March 30). In 1971, CBS corporate President Frank Stanton narrowly avoided being cited for contempt of Congress when he heeded Salant's advice and refused to make out-takes--unbroadcast news footage--available to government officials.

This analysis draws upon archived memos written by Salant and other news executives. interviews with CBS managers and news staffers, copies of the guidelines, and secondary source materials to describe the evolution of the CBS News Standards before and during the Salant years.(2) Those standards delineated a set of professional norms that encouraged the network's news workers to adopt a disciplined form of public interest journalism. The guidelines also helped quell CBS's harshest external critics during a tumultuous period in U.S. history.

CBS and the Early Development of News Policies

From the start, U. S. journalists had cause to respond to employer-endorsed press standards with cynicism. In 1922 the publishers and editors who formed the first newspaper trade organization, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), drafted seven brief "Canons of Journalism." The publicly disseminated standards aligned ASNE members with the interests of the reading public by emphasizing "responsibility," "freedom of the press," "independence," "sincerity-truthfulness-accuracy," "impartiality," "fair play," and "decency" (ASNE, 1923).

Yet despite this strong endorsement of public interest journalism, critics soon came to see the canons as a self-serving publicity effort on the part of the newspaper managers. …

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