Jeff Zucker’s departure from NBC is not a story I would waste much time reading about. But I’m glad I glanced at this short piece in Crain’s New York Business. What caught my eye was the teaser on Romenesko’s website: “Why media didn’t report what they knew about Zucker.”
It seems most reporters knew that Zucker was a dead man walking. That seems obvious given his much publicized failures. But he signed a contract extension after Comcast bought NBC Universal, and he insisted he was staying. Reporters weren’t buying it, but they weren’t reporting their suspicions either. Greg David’s damning conclusion seems spot on:
Reporters knew all this. Some believed they couldn’t write it unless someone told them it would happen. They also knew that if they did write Mr. Zucker was doomed, he might not be accessible to them and he could even shut the NBC Universal door entirely to reporters who angered him.
The end result, of course, is that readers of the NBC stories wonder why the reporters were so wrong about Mr. Zucker’s future.
I visited an undergraduate journalism class at Baruch last week and was asked how much advertising pressures affected editorial coverage in my years as editor of Crain’s. The answer was hardly at all. Rather, I told the students, reporters self-censor themselves not over concern about advertising but because they want access to companies.
The Zucker story showed that once again that is reporters’ interest in access not advertisers who censor the news.
And writing “he said, she said” stories protects reporters from charges that they are making judgments or calling out obvious false statements. All is a day’s work to preserve access.