On Brian Williams & National News Reporting

Photo Credit: NBC News

Photo Credit: NBC News

This past week it was announced that Brian Williams, the recently disgraced NBC Nightly News anchor would be placed on ‘extended leave’ for six months as a consequence for lying about his experiences as a correspondent during the Iraq War, most notably the story about his having been aboard a helicopter that was fired upon. Many in the media world seemed to agree that the sentence dished out was fair albeit rather ‘too little, too late’ in the grand scheme of things. However, in retrospect as we reflect on the departure of Brian Williams and more importantly the loss of real journalists like Bob Simon, who tragically lost his life at the hands of a car accident this week, it’s interesting to note where the current media culture stands. I can’t help but notice that people like Brian Williams aren’t really journalists so much as they are poster boys who the network can slap on the header that play at the beginning of the news broadcast. These are people who get to sit idly by, present less than 10 minutes of real hard news going on in the world and then proceed to fill up the last 20 minutes not filled up by commercials with dime-a-dozen public interest stories and viral videos. This was a point highlighted by Bill Maher this past Friday, where he pointed out the trend among media agencies to lift viral videos and images off the internet and call it a ‘news story’ as a substitute for real reporting. And in large part he’s absolutely right. However, the larger point that he makes, which I agree with wholeheartedly, is the standard that the news networks seem to accept that the demographic watching has a tiny attention span and can’t be bothered with ‘hard hitting news’, hence the reliance on ‘feel good stories’ to pad out the remaining time left on the clock. There is an obligation and sense of responsibility that comes with being a newsman and that is: you have the duty to use the time allotted to you for the purpose of reporting important stories not just the one’s which get the most buzz on yahoo or twitter. And for the love of God, please ask questions that provoke a discussion. Stop interviewing ‘easy guests’ who are just going to sit there and either blatantly spread mis-truths (looking at you ‘Meet the Press’) or simply get soft ball questions that do nothing but amount to self-congratulatory back-patting. It’s amazing to see the difference in quality between American news agencies and coverage provided by BBC America where someone like Katty Kay can interview a guest and ask some really thought-provoking questions on a topic that maybe most people missed that week. So luckily, those of us who aren’t satisfied with the saturated nature of news reporting have some sort of outlet for superior news coverage, thanks PBS! I’d like to hope that more people than just myself and Bill Maher share this opinion but it would seem that in this world of ‘instant everything’ most would rather be only relatively informed than spend their time searching the internet for the whole truth. And in that being the case, News agencies should feel even more obligated to spend serious time discussing news worthy stories instead of coping out to the hysteria that plagues the internet all to often and running ‘trend’ stories for easy ratings. It’s far too easy to run a piece about the ‘boy who raised money for his dying paraplegic grandpa using box tops’ than a piece about climate change, the effect of Ebola on primates or an extended discussion about the war in Ukraine. People don’t like depressing stories like that, they like stories about the ‘miracle _____ that did _____” and that sort of sensationalist reporting does nothing but reinforce the idea in far too many American’s minds that the only place where things ‘happen’ is in America. Unfortunately it seems, this trend is only going to get worse and the minimally informed will continue to vote and make decisions for those of us who do chose to stay informed, and the world just keeps on spinning. Note: I strongly encourage those of you to watch the previously mentioned Bill Maher segment on American News media because it elaborates on points briefly touched upon here.

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