PBS Newshour (2006) Not Doing Its Job

It may almost be a tired cliche to say public broadcasting is supposed to serve the people, but when it doesn’t do its job, it clouds the understanding of the viewing public.

In 2006, a FAIR study found that the esteemed Jim Lehrer and the NewsHour programmed exercised a lack of balance.

Some of the important findings were that public interest groups accounted for just four percent of total sources, male sources outnumbered women by more than 4-to-1, people of color made up only 15 percent of U.S. sources, Republicans outnumbered Democrats on the NewsHour by 2-to-1, “stay the course” sources outnumbered pro-withdrawal sources more than 5-to-1, and segments on Hurricane Katrina accounted for less than 10 percent of all sources, but provided nearly half (46 percent) of all African-American sources.

NewsHour is being dishonest when their own ombudsmen Ken Bode called their flagship show, “the mothership of balance.” FAIR has made it clear that this is not nearly the case.

NewsHour is supposed to be an alternative to corporate media, who aims to entertain and serve their own agendas.

With the facts and findings put forth by FAIR, it is clear that NewsHour has an agenda, and is serving that rather than the viewing public.

In their 2006 broadcasts, PBS had become what is supposed to be their worst enemy.

Public Broadcasting At A Crossroads

For Public Broadcasting channels like PBS, independence can only be possible if they learn to stand up to the big guy.

Such channels have been hurt by the major news networks as well as the lack of support from their own government.

Compared to countries such as France, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and others, the United States receives a minuscule amount of tax dollars per person, in the area of four dollars per person.

Standing up to the big guy isn’t so easy when a company needs money to stay afloat, and this is where the crux of the issue lies. Public broadcasting channels are supposed to serve the public, generally, those who are making small donations and helping keep the station going. But when those donations aren’t enough to keep the business afloat, companies are often forced to get funding from other means: namely, corporate ones such as John Arnold and Enron.

In receiving a 3.5 million dollar grant from Arnold, PBS was not able to serve the public, serving Enron and their agenda instead.

Arnold had shown to be passionate about one thing: cutting pensions to better balance budgets. PBS had the opposite belief, but viewers could never know that because of the channels succumbing to the powers on top.

The desperation for money in public broadcasting takes away from the sole purpose of the broadcasts in the first place.

With the possibility of an AT&T/Time Warner merger, media conglomerates and corporations are only becoming more powerful, and that’s unlikely to change no matter who is running the White House.

The only hope for public broadcasting channels is to take a stand and refuse to take money from self-serving corporations, and that’s is much easier said than done.

Lots To Think About For Journalism Start-Ups

Starting a journalism platform in 2016 is perhaps easier than ever, but there are a lot of considerations in order to really thrive in the medium.

Adam Westbrook discussed this in a 2009 blog post.

The person looking to start a journalism outlet will probably have the easiest time using an online platform and one of the first things they’d need to think about is their audience.

It’s important to consider who your readers will be and what their interests are. Why would they come to your platform over another?

Getting the word out is also something that will be key in starting a journalism outlet. Using social media and the Internet to its advantage can add a necessary dimension to spreading the word and maximizing a potential readership.

You can write the best blog or best article, but if no one reads it, it will be difficult to get an outlet off its feet.

In starting a new journalism platform, the word new is crucial. The topic, discourse or the style of writing needs to be something different, or take a unique angle that readers may not have thought of before. Or an angle that they have been thinking about, but haven’t been able to find anywhere on the Internet.

Lastly, if trying to use the start-up as a business, rather than a hobby, money considerations need to be taken into account. Where is your revenue going to come from? Donations, investments, advertisements?

What about the website or platform appeals to possible investors, and how can you make it more exciting?

With the evolution of the Internet and the blogosphere, a journalism start-up has probably never been more possible for the average person, but there are many factors to consider in order to have successfully get the business off the ground.

Breitbart: From Smearing Campaigns to Running Them

Andrew Breitbart, like many in his ‘industry,’ has an agenda.

This was never more clear than in July of 2010, when Breitbart uploaded a heavily edited video of a speech Shirley Sherrod gave to an NAACP dinner in Douglas, Georgia.

The edited video, taken out of context according to George Curry, led to allegations that Sherrod was bragging about discriminating against a white farmer, when in fact, her point was that people of all races should move beyond their personal biases.

Speaking of biases, a prominent member of Breitbart’s crew, Steve Bannon just finished up heading Donald Trump’s campaign.

Breitbart started by linking to videos such as the Sherrod one, and followed it up with mentions from a New York City CBS affiliate, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.

It’s one thing for people like Breitbart and Bannon to be influencing public opinion with shady reporting, but it is another to run a campaign, and now perhaps, work in a presidential cabinet.

Something like this has seemingly never been seen before, and offends many who have spent their lives supporting and working for the democratic process. The idea that a blogger or someone who wants to stir the pot on the internet, can have so much influence on governing, is a scary concept.

But that’s where we are. The influence of people like Steve Bannon and Andrew Breitbart has never been so high, and this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Matt Drudge Made a Name For Himself. Maybe For the Wrong Reasons.

Matt Drudge has become famous, or infamous to many for pooling together sensational links and stories with little actual reporting involved.

A prime example of this was a story released in 1999, regarding Bill Clinton and an alleged child he had with a woman in Arkansas.

If consumers actually opened the link and read the article, they would discover that only two people were quoted: the woman accusing Clinton, and her sister. No one from Clinton’s camp was sourced and the author even mentioned a DNA test, without following up with the results.

The substance and the ‘evidence’ referenced that would indict Clinton of being the child’s father, were descriptions by his aunt that he looked just like Bill Clinton.

Media like this is misleading, but extremely impactful in a news environment where consumers are looking for headlines that grab their attention, and opinions that echo their sentiments.

Drudge has taken advantage of an audience hungry for his type of media, one that brings together a conglomeration of their favorite kind of stories.

People like Drudge have changed the game for news consumption, and made jobs all the more difficult for the everyday, credible journalist. They no longer have to compete with solely press from other national and local newspapers, but strangers on the Internet, who often have an agenda, and little to lose.

 

Journalism vs. Activism

The line between journalism and activism can be a blurry one.

The late David Carr wrote about this in 2013, and how activist journalists have populated the medium thanks to less and less ‘real’ reporting–state house reporters, international reporters, etc.

Carr brings up the example of Glenn Greenwald reporting on the government secrets revealed by Edward Snowden, and says that Greenwald is both an activist and a journalist.

Maybe the two can’t always be mutually exclusive.

It seems to me that there are both activists who do journalism and journalists who do activism. Deciding if that’s ok with you is entirely up to the reader in my estimation. Readers know who Greenwald is, and what he stands for, and if they don’t, they can probably find it out with a quick Google search.

The issue I see here, and with the idea of objective reporting, referenced in my previous blog post, is that everyone has an opinion. Everyone has some sort of bias, from their upbringing or their life experiences, and to expect that to go away forever when one becomes a journalist is foolish.

Those biases, for example, feeling sorry for poor or homeless communities, may lead a journalist to do investigative pieces on those communities, and how they ended up in their situations.

Someone who grows up during government corruption, or collects negative feelings toward their government throughout life, may want to expose corruption or wrongdoings at the highest levels.

From my vantage point, most journalists have some sort of view on a topic before, during, or after they are reporting on it. To pretend that doesn’t exist is increasingly difficult, and makes the life of a journalists and a consumer of news all the more challenging.

 

Objectivity is becoming a pipe dream

In a blog post in 2009, David Weinberger discussed the idea that transparency usurps objectivity in terms of realistically assessing journalism.

He says that the word ‘objectivity’ is unrealistic for journalists to aspire to. Every quote, every source, every angle of a story comes from a different point of view, which often skews any objectivity the journalists thought they had.

I agree with the premise that objectivity is a nearly impossible goal to fulfill. Journalists should absolutely try to be fair and accurate, and represent all sides, but the idea that a story can ever remain completely objective seems impractical to me.

Every story comes from a certain angle. It gives a certain person more of a voice than others, and tells a specific side of a story for a purpose.

Whether that purpose is to inspire, to inform, or to persuade, is entirely up to the journalists, but to say there are no such motivations or thoughts is hard to grapple with.

The real issue Weinberger sees is those trying to be objective, but not offering transparency. Not diving into their own work, to see what could have been done better, and that’s where he said the internet and bloggers have come in to play.