Saving TV News: BBC, PBS Provide Model for Journalism Standards Missing on Networks. (Television)

By Schroth, Raymond A. | National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2002 | Go to article overview

Saving TV News: BBC, PBS Provide Model for Journalism Standards Missing on Networks. (Television)


Schroth, Raymond A., National Catholic Reporter


This just in: The Network Evening News, who for half a century bound the American TV public into an informed community and linked it to the larger world, according to unconfirmed reports, has been moved from the hospital, where he had undergone an emergency heart transplant, into hospice care. A number of his disciples, men and women whom he had trained as reporters, before they left journalism for the entertainment industry, have expressed sadness, even shock, at his decline.

But now this: Do you sometimes feel that you are not living up to your full potential? Do fleeting moments of discomfort, disappointment or even secondary sadness distract you from projects that could make you instantly wealthy and from meeting new people who could love you more than anything in the world? If so, research suggests that one tiny capsule may have the answer. Ask your doctor about Zum. Can cause side effects if taken with or near other solids or liquids, in public or in private, if the patient is young, old or middle-aged.

Now to our Investigative Report, some "Eye on America" news you can use. Have you noticed that when you buy a new house you will need a lot of money?

There are three theories on the future of network news.

First, the optimists argue that there's still life in the old anchormen. For a brief few months, following the attack on the World Trade Center, public interest in international news perked up. There was a war to report, even though the Pentagon kept the press as far as possible from what was really happening, and the networks added a million dollars a week to their budgets to cover it. But the war was a quickie, and ratings flagged, so the anchormen returned our gaze to the economy, child kidnappings and the disease of the week.

Nevertheless, Frank Rich makes the case in the May 19 New York Times Magazine that even though the combined network evening newscasts attract only 43 percent of the viewing audience, compared to 84 percent in 1981; even though both the anchormen and their viewers are "old"; even though younger viewers get their news on the Comedy Channel or on the Internet; even though the morning shows have bigger "stars" (Katie Couric gets close to $15 million); even though the news hole has shrunk to 20 minutes (actually 17) to make room for commercial remedies for the "aging, the infirm, the impotent and the incontinent," there's still pep in the old "geezers"--Dan Rather, 70, Peter Jennings, 64, and Tom Brokaw, 62.

First, their combined audience of 30 million viewers is still greater than the most popular primetime shows, such as "Friends" with 24 million. Second, unlike anyone who would replace them, these anchormen have "gravitas." As Dan Rather said: "The viewer must have the sense that the anchor has seen enough of life, enough of news, to be trusted with this storm, this hurricane of fact, rumor, misinformation, interviews, news reports coming in to sort through." It may be part show biz, but Rather, who covered combat in Vietnam, has made it part of his image, in trench coat or flak jacket, to broadcast from storm-tossed seawalls and battlefields.

Third, at their best, the evening news shows have been the "national hearth." When youngsters outgrow MTV and Comedy Central, they may turn to the news for a sense of shared national experience.

For the second group, the pessimists, the quality of the broadcasts has deteriorated so far, that, like racehorses with broken legs, they should be put to sleep.

In a chapter in their new book, The News about the News: American Journalism in Trouble, reprinted in Columbia Journalism Review, Washington Post editors Leonard Downie Jr. and Robert G. Kaiser present some content analysis comparing the evening news in 1981-83 with their reports in spring 2000.

Because the networks are now owned by huge corporations who don't care a fig about journalism standards, ratings and profits are everything. …

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