Bad idea

Post Goes Hollywood

The Washington Post, having laid off over the past couple of  years scores of seasoned reporters who covered the important issues of the day, is beefing up its Style and Arts sections.  Oh boy!


Journalism used to focus on what citizens needed to know, whether they liked it or not. Now it focuses on what the audience wants, explaining the spike in celebrity and entertainment news.

Media Chiefs’ Pay Day

I’m now reading The Death & Life of American Journalism whose authors advocate for public funding of journalism outlets.  They claim for-profit news enterprises simply cannot keep up with the demand for profits from investors and make the investments necessary to attract enough readers to remain viable. 

It seems again the capitalist model is not working out for the front-line workers of their customers.

The media industry may be going through some rough times, with the landscape changing day to day, but at least one aspect is business as usual: big paydays for the people at the top.

Top executives at the country’s largest media companies continued to reel in multimillion-dollar pay packages in 2009, a year of widespread cost-cutting throughout the industry. In several cases, the packages even increased from the year before.

Understatement of the Day

Further assessment – this took longer than I should have spent on it.

Above is the last sentence in a long, detailed explanation with electronic images of why the author (Mediate’s Philip Bump) thinks the now infamous photo of Tea Party founder Dale Robertson is not a fake.  Robertson had said he never seen examples of racism at Tea party events.  Then this photo of him was circulated.


In today’s media environment, just by spending so much time and energy debunking the myth that it’s a fake reinforces the message that it’s a fake.

A Freelancer’s Ethical Problem

A private investigator hired a freelance writer to dig into the background of two FDA officials.  The firm, Kroll, was hired by drug maker Amphastar Pharmaceuticals that was frustrated that its generic drug wasn’t getting approval fast enough. 

At one point, the investigators hired a freelance reporter to file Freedom of Information Act requests, using her status as a journalist to request Woodcock’s emails, phone records, voicemails, calendar and expense reports, among other documents – without mentioning that she was being paid for her efforts by a private investigative firm.

“I am making this request as a journalist and this information is of timely value,” Melanie Haiken, a San Francisco-based freelance reporter wrote to the FDA. “As a journalist, I am primarily engaged in disseminating information.”

Haiken did not disclose that she was working for the private investigators at the time. In an email explaining its fees, Kroll told Amphastar that the expenses related to the FOIC covered “the cost of the person we are using to make the requests untraceable to you, the client.”

…Haiken, the freelance journalist, confirms that she filed the FOIA on behalf of Kroll. But Haiken said her intent was journalistic, and that she hoped the FOIAs would yield an interesting story. “I’m not really an investigator, I’m a health writer,” she said. “I have a right to get a story tip from somebody, even if it’s somebody at Kroll.”

This is a horrible breach of ethics for a reporter—freelance or not.

Baring All for Science

Exposing a woman’s breasts on mainstream media programs is not supposed to happen, short of a “wardrobe malfunction.”

But in a four-part report on [breast cancer] beginning Thursday night, WJLA, Channel 7 in Washington, will break TV’s unspoken taboo by showing two women fully exposed on its late-afternoon and evening newscasts.

The station claims there isn’t enough, ahem, detail shown about how women should examine their breasts to catch the cancer early.  Oh, OK.  Well, if there’s a good reason….  In fact, there is a really, really, very good reason.

The reports will air on the first two days of TV’s traditional "sweeps" month, a period in which stations air their most eye-catching stories to boost ratings that are used to set advertising rates.

Eye-catching, indeed. Nonetheless, station manager Bill Lord said that’s just a coincidence.  And besides,

Lord said he did not expect many viewer complaints, in part because the reports will be preceded by "viewer discretion" disclaimers. Further, he said, WJLA’s 5 p.m. newscast follows "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and its 11 p.m. newscast on Thursday follows the ABC medical drama "Private Practice," both of which have audiences largely made up of women. On Friday, the 11 p.m. news follows "20/20," a news program that has an older following.

“[A]udiences largely made up of women”?  Not those nights, baby.  And the guys won’t be complaining.

Reportedly, next ratings period, the station is going to demonstrate, in detail, how you can catch syphilis. (OK.  That’s not true, but I’ll let you know if the station calls me to thank me for the idea.)

Salaries Out of Whack

No, we’re not talking about bank CEOs.  Mike Messing is talking about salaries of network news anchors.

Katie Couric’s annual salary is more than the entire annual budgets of NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered combined. Couric’s salary comes to an estimated $15 million a year; NPR spends $6 million a year on its morning show and $5 million on its afternoon one. NPR has seventeen foreign bureaus (which costs it another $9.4 million a year); CBS has twelve. Few figures, I think, better capture the absurd financial structure of the network news.

I have no particular beef with Couric.  How could I; I’ve never watched her show from beginning to end.  In fact, since she’s been on the air at CBS, I’ll bet I have seen 10 minutes of her show.  I am an NPR fan, though I don’t get to hear it but occasionally. 

The network signature news programs each night are losing their audiences in droves.  Young people rarely listen to them.  As with newspapers, many of which continue to follow the political gamesmanship rather than give readers information they can use, network news hasn’t changed the product in a meaningful way in decades. 

The networks are in a death spiral, yet they keep airing the same tired product. Could they do things differently? Has the anchor system perpetuated the problem? What changes might succeed in luring new viewers?

You can’t really blame the anchors, but you can’t credit them with anything either.

So why do they continue to pay anchors multi-million salaries when there is no evidence they improve the product or increase the audience?