Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Commercialization of News: Why Some Organizations May Have Lost Their Way

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

The Commercialization of News: Why Some Organizations May Have Lost Their Way

Article excerpt

On Thursday evening, Jan. 19, 2012, the American people were treated to an interview on "Nightline" with Marianne Gingrich, former wife of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. The interview was promoted to reveal scandalous details about the character of Mr. Gingrich in a blatant attempt to railroad his political ambitions.

The bigger issue here is not the details of the "he said, she said" interview, but rather the behavior of a specific news network acting carelessly and unethically. As a veteran network news reporter and news director, I was ashamed of my profession.

Ethically, this particular news network showed a blatant disregard and lack of respect for the codes of ethics that govern the business. This interview was nothing but a cheap political shot intended to derail Gingrich's campaign. Why on Earth would any news network stoop to this level?

The issue may be two-fold. First and foremost, this was done for ratings. I, however, would argue that any short-term ratings boost could easily backfire, as Gingrich is capable of dressing down "gotcha" questions from reporters. All news networks want scoops, but news executives and producers need to make decisions on what to air very carefully.

Second, it's hard to look past the perceived liberal bias of national news networks. As someone who worked for two of the big three news networks, for 25 years in New York, I never observed or was part of a liberal bias. However, making the decision to run this interview shortly before the South Carolina primary is unethical, politically charged, and furthers the idea that network news is "in the tank" for Democrats. And it's hard to argue with that. After all, when is the last time a major news network pulled this kind of a stunt with a Democrat?

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) both have codes of ethics that govern behavior by news organizations. Airing this interview violates, multiple clauses of both the SPJ and RTDNA codes of ethics.

For example, the SPJ ethics code says journalists should "diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing."

I know ABC investigators tried to get a comment from the Gingrich campaign, but the request was denied. Why would Gingrich's campaign want to comment on a program that had already indicted him?

It is impossible for Gingrich's campaign to be able to react reasonably within 35 hours after the interview has aired. In this case, the news organization is the judge and jury. …

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