Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MARK GARAY: How TV news can restore its credibility

Former KTRK 13 anchor Mark Garay guest blogs this post on the mikemcguff.com blog:

AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

Let's not pretend that the modern electronic media are all that different philosophically from the earliest days of print. During the perilous years of secession, twisted accounts of Abraham Lincoln's character were brazenly assailed by personal interests, both north and south, bent on derailing his drive to keep a divided country undivided, and his faith in humanity to correct crimes against humanity.

When the nation's financial system collapsed during the 1930's, newspaper editorials questioned every aspect of FDR's ideas, often dismissing the New Deal as flawed by its very nature, and calling the man himself a closet socialist.

And let's not forget the family which built Los Angeles, the Chandlers. From it's inception in the late 19th century, clear through to the 1960's, the Los Angeles Times was little more than an agent fashioned to draw midwesterners to the left coast through idealized imagery and manipulative accounts of this "angelic paradise". All the while of course, the Chandler family hand picked who they wanted in office by disguising its agenda as news, and amassing a brave western fortune by purchasing land it knew the state of California needed to ensure steady growth.

When people today say the media has never been more biased, they are wrong. The difference is that yesterday's press made no apologies. Nor did it try to hide exactly what it was trying to achieve. Today, we see promo after promo of what news outlets would like you to believe as complete transparency. They tout "honest reporting" and "accuracy" and "balance".

Well, let's get real. Today's interviews are often one sided. The slants are obvious. And sadly, the people calling their operations legitimate news are often catering to an understated self interest, both out of philosophies they'd rather not discuss, and agendas they'd rather you not understand.

Recently, bloggers have been quite literally making the news. On this very blog, Michael McGuff has presented articles suggesting a large number of bloggers who consider themselves news professionals or journalists. I guess that claim is hard to dispute, since no one has authoritatively defined what a news professional is. But clearly, we know what a news professional is not: He or She doesn't include opinion in reporting, isn't above using standardized procedures and conduct to make sure every aspect of every news story is represented, and doesn't ignore a designed faith in checking and rechecking facts so that viewers understand the full breadth of a news story, not just arbitrary chunks of manipulated truth that can easily leave the public confused and misled.

HEREIN MAY LIE THE SALVATION OF TELEVISION NEWS.

Networks executives on down must reestablish their medium as trustworthy and unbiased. They need to separate their product from the myriad of like minded posers, who would just as well call themselves journalists as they would nuclear physicists. There is an OPPORTUNITY here for news operations to regain their base, by remembering their purpose. Begin not only circulating a message of credibility, but also show the public why the posers can't compete. News managers MUST rely on their resources, NOW, while they still have them to show the public that there IS a difference between what you see on network affiliates, and what you read on rogue websites.

The exchange of information is going through a revolution. And every revolution risks splinter groups whom distance themselves from the original task at hand. In this case, television stations need to take up arms by taking down stereotypes. They need to clearly define themselves as conveyers of truth, not innuendo. They need to prove up balanced reporting at every turn. They need to show everyone that there IS a place to go if you're interested in facts.

Some places are still trying to practice legitimate journalism. PBS and its Frontline series comes to mind. A handful of news networks have used a reporter to fact check live on the air as politicians made stunning claims about recent health care legislation, and bank CEOs responded to Congressional inquiries during high profile political hearings.

Television news MUST let the truth set it free. Otherwise, it's nothing more than the conspiracy theorists, agenda driven homebound bloggers and low budget news operations which refuse to practice the tenants of honest news gathering and would do better selling their "unbiased" reporting on "Let's Make a Deal".

There is one obvious downside. Can legitimate news operations REALLY legitimize themselves? Are they willing to clean up their shoddy reporting? Are they capable of giving journalists more time to ensure accuracy and fairness? Is it even in their nature to stop the "if it bleeds, it leads" practices by making professional news gathering a necessity and not a notion? Because if broadcast news professionals can't clean up their act, they're nothing but bloggers with bull horns, quick to proclaim an honesty and depth they not only lack but feel obligated to completely ignore.

Make no mistake, television news is in big trouble. I envision a day when daily editorial decisions may come from some centralized office in another state. Radio is already operating in similar fashion to save money. The Jocks you hear in Houston could be cradling microphones in Hoboken, for all we know. Could you imagine? Editorial decisions on how to cover Houston's city council decided by some guy eating a ham sandwich in Denver?

At this point, PR is one of the few tactics television news has left to help it survive. It has a distribution system already in place. It may seem ironic that employing the illusion of credibility which the medium has honed for years, may actually be the key to its very survival.

If television news wants to live, it must tell the world that it is honest. The hard part will be backing up that claim. And just like presenting an honest, unbiased and balanced news story, no one said it would be easy.

- Mark Garay

NOW FOR THE COUNTER ARGUMENT
If it works for Fox News...

READ MORE OF MARK GARAY'S THOUGHTS

Find out more about Garay's latest work at CodeMark Poductions LLC.

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