RealClearPolitics Media Watch

Media Watch Home Page --> January 2010

Poll: FOX Most Trusted News Channel

Not bad for the cable network the White House believes is "not really a news organization."

Among those faring the worst in the poll were CBS and ABC, which were not trusted by 46%.

That makes last week's declaration by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer even more ironic: "We don't feel the obligation to treat [Fox] like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization, but there are times when we believe it makes sense to communicate with them."

Nothing Bites Like Mockery

Nothing bites like mockery.

Fox Rises, Air America Crashes

On the same day Neilsen reported competition-dwarfing numbers for Fox News's coverage of the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, Air America radio declared bankruptcy and will cease live broadcasts immediately.

In a statement posted to its web site, Air America's management explained:

With radio industry ad revenues down for 10 consecutive quarters, and reportedly off 21% in 2009, signs of improvement have consisted of hoping things will be less bad. And though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies

When Air America Radio launched in April, 2004 with already-known personalities like Al Franken and then-unknown future stars like Rachel Maddow, it was the only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world. At a critical time in our nation's history -- when dissent on issues such as the Iraq war were often denounced as "un-American" -- Air America and its talented team helped millions of Americans remember the importance of compelling discussion about the most pivotal events and decisions of our generation.

Through some 100 radio outlets nationwide, Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress.

Meanwhile, Fox News's rise into the cable news stratosphere continues unabated. According to Neilsen, Fox News drew an astonishing 6.2 million total viewers during primetime Tuesday night, compared to only 1.5 million for CNN and 1.1 million for MSNBC.

Clearly, those numbers are driven in part by the fact that Fox's right-leaning audience was intensely interested in the outcome of this race. But it also had to do with the fact that Fox simply provided more, and better, coverage of the event. Fox was the only network to cover Coakley and Brown's speeches in their entirety.

And as Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin points out, while Fox had a stream of liberal pundits on analyzing the race, MSNBC provided little more than spittle-flecked vitriol from its anchors:

Watching coverage of the Massachusetts senatorial election Tuesday night, I wondered if MSNBC was getting ready to cut off its cable signal to the state. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, positively enraged that Massachusetts dared to elect a Republican, delivered two hours of nonstop bilious rage toward the state's voters, calling them "irrational" and "teabaggers," engaged in "a total divorce from reality," and hinting that they're vicious racists to boot.

If you watched CNN or Fox News last night, you got a balanced analysis of how Republican Scott Brown pulled off the political upset of the century (or, if you prefer, how Democrat Martha Coakley blew a dead solid electoral lock). Yes, I said Fox News, without irony. To be sure, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity made it clear they were rooting for Brown. But their shows also included a steady parade of liberal-leaning guests -- former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich, Democratic party strategist Mary Anne Marsh, NPR commentator Juan Williams and radio host Alan Colmes. And pollster Frank Luntz interviewed a panel of two dozen or so Massachusetts voters, most of them Democrats, about how they voted and why. Practically every conceivable perspective on the election was represented.

Howard Dean Wanted to Scream

Chris Matthews catches a good deal of crap (including from yours truly) for some of the silly partisan things he says. He is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal with a loose tongue who is on television for an hour five nights a week, and we all see the results.

So it's only fair to give Matthews credit for calling Howard Dean on his silly, "black is white" interpretation of Tuesday night's results. Watch:

Fear and Loathing at MSNBC

The panic that has over taken liberals watching the Massachusetts Senate race has been perfectly reflected in the comically hysterical coverage on MSNBC.

Just in the last day or two we witnessed: Keith Olbermann's unhinged rant calling Scott Brown "an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women"; Ed Schultz suggesting that Democrats cheat to keep the Republican "bastards" from winning the Massachusetts Senate race; David Shuster introducing a segment on the Massachusetts Senate race by asking whether the Democratic leaning state has "lost its mind"; and Chris Matthews pining for the "old school" days when Democratic machine politicians would use "walking around money" to pack voters into booths to make absolutely sure they'd win races.

Poor Tim Russert must be spinning in his grave watching what passes for political commentary and analysis on MSNBC these days.

Boston Globe Puts Thumb on the Scale - Again

Let me see if I have this right: there have been six polls of the Massachusetts Senate race released in the last 24 hours, five of which show Scott Brown with leads of 5 points, 7 points, 9 points, 10 points and 10 points, respectively. Only one poll shows the race tied. None of the polls show Martha Coakley with a lead.

How then, you might ask, can the Boston Globe justify characterizing the race as a "dead heat?"

I suppose if you were disingenuous enough to downplay and/or ignore the five polls showing Scott Brown with fairly sizable leads, then that headline wouldn't be false. Massively biased and misleading, yes, but technically accurate. And wouldn't you know, that's exactly what the author of the story does:

With the clock ticking inexorably towards Tuesday's election and a new poll showing them in a dead heat, Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown are crisscrossing the state today in a last-minute scramble for votes in a race that has drawn national attention.

It's not until five paragraphs later we learn that the poll the Globe is citing is from Daily Kos, along with a further bit of spin:

The poll, done for the liberal Daily Kos blog by Research 2000, found Brown and Coakley tied, 48-48, which would be consistent with a raft of other polls that have suggested that Brown, until recently a little-known state senator, has made an extraordinarily strong run against Coakley, the state's attorney general.

I'm sorry, but citing the most favorable poll by far for Coakley and suggesting that it is "consistent" with the other polls is such a blatant distortion of the current state of the race that the Globe should be ashamed of itself. That would assume, of course, that the Globe is interested in providing its readers with the truth as opposed to putting its thumb on the scale in favor of a preferred political candidate.

Then again, people who get their political news solely from the Boston Globe are probably surprised to hear the race is a "dead heat" given that just eight days ago the Globe's own poll affirmed to readers that Martha Coakley was leading Scott Brown by 17 points while other pollsters had the race far closer including one firm, PPP, that showed Brown up a point.

E&P Finds Buyer; Top Editor Allegedly Dumped

Editor and Publisher, long the go-to publication for print journalists, announced on Thursday that it has been purchased by Duncan McIntosh Co. Inc., a magazine and newspaper publisher headquartered in Irvine, Calif.

Just a month ago, E&P, the self-proclaimed "bible of the newspaper industry," startled many when it announced it was shutting down its operation for good after 125 years.

Upon hearing that news, McIntosh said he swung into action.

"Such a critical information source for a newspaper industry so desperately in need of help should not go away," McIntosh said. "I've been a reader of E&P over the course of 30 years and know its incredible value to readers and advertisers."

Charles "Chas" McKeown will continue as publisher of E&P, and Mark Fitzgerald was named its new editor. Fitzgerald had served as E&P's editor-at-large.

Former editor Greg Mitchell alleged on his blog Thursday that he will no longer have a job at the publication despite the fact McIntosh promised that he would be retained: "One week ago in a meeting, new owner told me flatly, ' "Extremely impressed with your great work and definitely will retain you.' "

Mitchell also typed: "The great Joe "Scoop" Strupp, senior editor, also out, after 12 years -- a truly great loss. Only four editors/writers left."

Neither McIntosh nor E&P has responded to Mitchell's allegations.

E&P will print monthly beginning in February, while operations on its Web site, editorandpublisher.com, began immediately.

The Demise of Newspapers, Part II

Following up on the eye-opening thesis by Alan D. Mutter regarding the huge obstacles newspapers face in the current climate of down advertising and heavy competition from a variety of different news sources ...

In his second-day piece titled, "How long can publishers afford to Print"? Mutter lays out three possible scenarios facing newspaper advertising in the next 15 years. (Newspapers depend on advertising for approximately 80 percent of their operating revenue.)

* Optimistic Case - Ad sales drop 10% in 2010, are unchanged in 2011 and then grow at 2% a year in 2012 and each subsequent year.

* Middle Case - Ad sales fall 15% in 2011, slide 5% in 2012 and then decline 2% in 2012 and each subsequent year.

* Pessimistic Case - Ad sales plunge 20% in 2010, drop 15% in 2011 and then decline 5% in 2012 and each subsequent year.

Mutter makes it clear that he has made this supposition with as little variance as possible, and as close to current revenue strategies as possible.

He ends his piece by typing, "Apart from the few newspaper executives stubborn enough to hew to the industry's traditional course in hopes of being rescued by a rapid and robust economic turnaround, it is reasonable to assume that most publishers are going to start doing something different in an attempt alter the deteriorating economics that are threatening their core business.

"I don't know what the new innovations might be," he continues. "The scary part is that I am afraid the publishers don't, either."

It has been my long-held opinion that newspapers devalued themselves long ago, by charging bargain-basement prices for single-copy sales and home delivery of their products. Many of the comments following Part II of Mutter's provocative offering also get at why newspapers have been so slow to increase their fees.

In the past couple of decades, many newspaper publishers began virtually giving away their product. This was done so that advertising executives could lure possible advertisers by pitching the sheer number of eyes that would allegedly be on their ads thanks to the wide distribution of the papers.

This was probably a sound strategy when the economy was on more solid footing, and when there wasn't as much competition for advertising dollars as there is today.

Because publishers may have boxed themselves in with their dirt-cheap rates for home-delivery of their newspapers, it might now be too late to charge more for this service. Whether or not this trend is indeed reversible, could go a long way in determining whether newspapers will survive.

Palin a Hit with Viewers

The ratings are in for Sarah Palin's debut as a contributor on Fox, and the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential hopeful is a hit.

Palin appeared on the Tuesday night's "O'Reilly Factor Show" and helped grow the audience on that popular program by 42 percent from the same night a year ago.

Palin also helped O'Reilly blow away the cable competition in the same time slot. The show even outdid ABC's prime-time programming that night.

Old Uses 'New' to Cover Haiti Disaster

The Columbia Journalism Review presents an excellent wrap-up piece on the role "new" media played, and continues to play, in covering the events following the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti late Tuesday afternoon.

With most phone lines down and things at a virtual standstill in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, where the damage has been reported to be the worst, individual eyewitness accounts of the devastation came pouring in from Twitter users, postings on Facebook pages, and through calls on Skype, the computer-generated phone service.

Major news services then rallied to accrue as much of this information as possible and disseminated it to their readers, listeners and viewers. It's fair to say that only a few years ago, we might have been given only half the information that has flowed from the devastated island nation the past 36 hours or so. Certainly a decade ago, these individual accounts would have been only a fraction of what they are today.

As the CJR says, "... the world owes a measure of debt to new media platforms -- which will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in Haiti in the days and months to come -- for their assistance in facilitating the early response to this disaster."

With so much information coming at us from so many sources, good care should be taken to ensure that it is completely verifiable and reliable.

Or perhaps absolute accuracy becomes one of the first casualties in desperate times like these? Let's hope not.

I have little doubt that the vast majority of these major news operations are doing the requisite fact-checking and verifying to make sure the information they are receiving is authentic and accurate. One needs only go back to the reckless coverage of the "Balloon Boy" incident, however, to fly a flag of warning that too much information coming in too fast could become too much of a good thing.

It would take only a few erroneous reports of life and death out of Haiti, for people to doubt the source(s) that provided this information.

Accuracy and credibility are the bedrocks of any news-gathering operation, and must be the priority at all times.

Study Looks at How Long Newspapers Can Survive

Wiseguys in the industry have been telling publishers for years that if they are wondering where their readers are going to check the obituary pages of their newspapers.

It's that simple, really. Older generations grew up reading newspapers and depend on them for news and information, while younger generations are growing up on the Internet and depend on it to get their news and information.

Using that basic premise, one of the industry's wiser wiseguys, Alan D. Mutter, has put together an eye-opening peek at where newspapers can expect to be a few decades from now.
The view, depending on the lens through which you are viewing it, is predictably bleak.

Mutter opens his two-part series by typing simply, "Actuarially speaking, the population of print newspaper readers will drop by nearly a third within 15 years and probably less than half the size it is today by the time 2040 rolls around."

Mutter reasons, that "unless something unforeseeable happens to change the news-consumption habits of younger readers, it stands to reason that the total audience of newspaper readers will shrink as the older generation dies off."

That is close to being impossible to argue with, though Mutter's "unless something unforeseeable happens" caveat is a fairly significant one to his thought-provoking thesis.

Going back in time 15 years, was there anybody out there who really understood the tsunami-like impact the Internet would have on the newspaper industry? I know I didn't run into any.

And 30 years ago, pagination and its impact on newsrooms and not so much readers, was the next big thing everybody was grumbling about. The Internet wasn't even a glimmer in Al Gore's eye.

Who's to say what the next big news-provider will be in the coming years? Could something replace the Internet? Doubtful. Will things be different? Count on it.

Heck, maybe there will will be an epiphany among the younger generations, and they will turn away in revolt and anger from the garbage that piles up every day on the Internet, and return to the wholesomeness and comforts of newspapers. Then again maybe there's a better chance Santa Claus will come down your chimney to deliver you that paper each day.

The basic point is, it is impossible to predict the future.

It Might Even Be Worse

Frankly, I agree with many of the excellent comments that follow Mutter's first-day piece.

Many of these folks seem to think that he has painted a rather rosy scenario for newspapers. Most argue, correctly in my view, that readers are turning away from newspapers and going to the Internet at an accelerating pace. Following that line of thinking, the demise of newspapers will only quicken.

As a long-time newspaper guy, my fingers hurt just typing that.

So, with their newspapers crumbling all around them, why are publishers still bravely donning their hardhats and firing up their presses at all?

M-O-N-E-Y.

Isn't that always the answer?

At least the print industry has an established model for generating profit. If these publishers up and dumped print, Mutter points out, they would lose about 95 percent of their revenue.

Until, and if, some cyber-genius comes up with a viable way to wrap the news they are distributing on the 'net with wads of advertising dollars, many publishers will hold onto their dying print franchises and most likely take them to the cemetery with their readers.

FOX Tabs Palin for Contributor Role

Sarah Palin is joining Fox News, and predictably this news is banging around all the regular media stops and making a lot of noise.

The network announced Monday that Palin, the former Alaska governor and John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election, "has signed a multi-year deal to offer her political commentary and analysis across all Fox News platforms, including Fox Business Channel, FoxNews.com and Fox News Radio."

The network went on to say she would, "also participate in special event political programming for Fox Broadcasting."

While news of this hiring seems to have been held tight, it hardly comes as a surprise.

Palin has proven to be a political lightning rod since she was launched into the spotlight during McCain's failed bid for the White House. Her name recognition alone should be worth valuable rating points and plenty of buzz for the already top-ranked cable news channel.

"Governor Palin has captivated everyone on both sides of the political spectrum and we are excited to add her dynamic voice to the FOX News lineup," said Bill Shine, executive vice president of programming.

During the campaign and since, Palin, 45, has earned legions of supporters and detractors on both sides of the political fence.

"I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News," Palin said in a written release. "It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news."

There can be little debate that Fox's pronounced lean to the right side of the political spectrum has been a winning formula for the network over the years.

When it continues to load the political-pundit scale on one side with so many conservative heavyweights, however, it is fair to question whether that significant tilt might impact the news department at Fox, and its ability to deliver information its audience can trust to be straight down the middle, and 'fair and balanced,' as it professes.

That's for the viewers to decide, of course, and Fox executives seem to be betting they'll like the addition of Palin just fine, thank you.

Newspaper Copy That's Short Is Sweet

Three cheers for Michael Kinsley's recent piece in the Atlantic regarding story length in newspapers. Kinsley argues, rightfully in my opinion, that too many stories in too many newspapers are too bloody long.

I'm not ready to accompany Kinsley on his leap that story length is a reason readers are abandoning print for the Internet (the reasons for that are many, and probably worth a book or two worth of words), but I'm with him all day long in his contention that most newspaper stories could be shorter.

"Writing long," as good editors say, has been a problem in the industry for decades, and it is inexcusable. It is hard to believe that there is a print reporter alive that at some point wasn't taught to, "say as much as you can in as few words as possible."

Budding reporters are also taught to make the actual words shorter, too. Is there a worse word on the planet than utilize, when a fine, utilitarian, three-letter word like use works every time?
Reporters and editors are taught (or should have been) not to make readers work too hard, or to take up too much of their valuable time.

In fairness, the problem of writing long has predominantly become entrenched at the larger, more authoritative papers like the The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The reason for this is twofold, I think.

One: These papers have far larger newsholes (space) than their smaller brethren, so long prose can be more easily accommodated on their pages -- whether the copy is worth it or not.

Two: (This is some haughty conjecture on my part, but based on some experience): There seems to be a feeling among some of the reporters at these papers that they somehow deserve to turn the 10-column-inch story into 20.

An old boss of mine would tell you there is a third reason for this, and it goes hand in hand with my second one.

He contended that the reason newspapers like the Post and Times housed these monstrosities was because they were "reporters' newspapers," as opposed to say, USA Today, where he once plied his trade at the top of the masthead.

What he meant by this is that the inmates were basically running the asylum at these papers. Just check the number of stories with unnamed sources these editors allow to run for further confirmation of this, but more on that another time.

"The USA Today is an editor's paper," he'd proudly grumble as he rifled through some 35-inch piece of copy in the Post on a trade surplus in Ecuador or something.

I've always thought Truman Capote said it best: "I believe more in the scissors than I do the pencil."

Many Publishers Emphasizing 'Free'-lancing

Today's offering has everything to do with rubbing it in if you call yourself a writer or a print journalist. Yeah, you knew it was bad out there, but pop an aspirin or two while we convince you that it's even worse than you thought.

This little beauty was sent along by a colleague this morning.

James Rainey, who handles the On the Media column for the L.A. Times, pens a sad tale detailing just how hard it is for good writers and journalists to be compensated something better than migrant-worker wages for turning around freelance copy.

In his extensive piece, Rainey opines that "freelancing has become all too free."

According to Rainey, (though we're not sure where he got this figure), "seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers."

Like many media experts, Rainey contends that, "a pervasive shift in journalism toward shorter stories, frothier subjects and an increasing emphasis on fast, rather than thorough," is leading to a more watered-down brand of journalism.

Watered-down will never be confused with rich, thus the dilemma and hard times facing so many professional writers these days.

Still, Rainey did find a couple of writers who are shirking the woe-is-me approach to the tough free-lance climate.

One, 34-year-old Matt Villano said: "Some writers struggle because they have fuzzy, arty notions about their work. They need to act more like small business people, diversifying their skills and the outlets they write for."

With that kind of positive attitude you wonder why Villano ever became a writer.

And speaking of migrant-worker wages ...

We came across yet more depressing news for writers and reporters in The Huffington Post. It seems that the job of newspaper reporter ranks 184th out of 200 on a list of careers compiled by CareerCast.com.

Clark Kent must be rolling over in his grave.

In this comprehensive eye-opening study called Jobs Rated 2010: A Ranking of 200 Jobs From Best to Worst, the website uses five major categories to develop its rankings: physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook.

Frankly, the reporter ranking comes as no big surprise. Even during newspapers' heyday, it's hard to imagine the profession ever cracked the Top-100. Long hours and low pay have always been the hallmarks of this grisly job. Throw in the ever-looming deadlines, and it all makes for a cocktail mixed with all sorts of unsavory ingredients.

So there you have it. If you are a reporter or writer, we recommend that for the rest of the day you stay away from any tall buildings -- unless, of course, you really are Clark Kent ...

Brown Takes Shot at U.S. Newspapers

Tina Brown for publisher!

Too late?

Well, that's a shame for any number of newspapers among the piles of failures across the United States. Who knows, if this British firebrand had been listed atop their masthead at some point they might be thriving right now.

The founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast and the former editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, among others, gave a good, old-fashioned tongue-lashing to American newspapers for blaming everything -- and especially the Internet -- but themselves for their deaths.

"What a load of Spam," Brown typed in her Jan. 3 Blogs and Stories.

Brown cites lack of innovation, boring design and presentation, and too many high-brow news choices as the biggest problems with the majority of our nation's suffering newspapers.

Brown contends that greedy newspapers across the States, "needed to innovate back in the Fax Age of the 1980s, but were too self-important and making too much money with their monopolies to acknowledge it."

She also points out that in the UK, "there is a banquet of glorious newspapers to feast on in the morning despite the presence of the Internet."
(We confirm this to be true after a recent trip to London.)

Finally, she grudgingly threw a bone to one American newspaper -- and wouldn't you know it, its headed by an Australian:

"Whatever his views on this issue, by the way, Rupert Murdoch has greatly improved The Wall Street Journal. Leave it to an Aussie to give American journalism a swift kick in its down under."

Ouch.

FOX's Hume Sticks to His Guns on Woods, Religion

Brit Hume was given the chance on Monday night's Fox's O'Reilly Factor show to grab his escape club and attempt to get out of any trouble he might have gotten into over the controversial comments he made concerning Tiger Woods' faith a day earlier on the network.

But like Woods on the golf course, Hume continued his go-for-broke approach, and showed little back-off.

In Sunday's Fox News Sunday program, Hume opined that Woods' faith had everything to do with his recovery as a person:

"He's said to be a Buddhist," Hume said. "I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So my message to Tiger would be, 'Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.' "

When asked on Monday by Factor host Bill O'Reilly if this was proselytizing, Hume said, "I don't think so."

Later in the segment, during a choppy exchange with the show's host, Hume attempted to make it clear his intent was not to denigrate the Buddhist religion as a whole.

"I mentioned the Buddhism only because his mother is a Buddhist and he has apparently said that he is a Buddhist (though) I am not sure how seriously he practices that."

Hume went on to say, "I think that Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods badly needs."

Hume, who up until a year ago was Fox News' managing editor, is now called a 'senior political analyst' on the network's web site. He is also a regular panelist on Fox News Sunday.

As an analyst and panelist, Hume is paid for and entitled to his opinion. Had he made these comments in his capacity as managing editor, he would have been completely out of bounds.

It is curious why Hume chose to plow through the rocky tundra which is religion in such a heavy-handed manner, though. For better or worse, Hume's religious leanings are no longer ambiguous and could potentially color any future opinion he has on any number of subjects.

As of yet, the network has not commented on the remarks Hume made on either of its shows.

How Tweet it is
A story in The Huffington Post Monday reported that ESPN.com writer Bill Simmons was not happy that his Dec. 10, tweets about Tom Brady's ribs being broken were not being taken seriously by the network, or apparently, by anybody else in the business.

This past Sunday, both ESPN reporter Adam Schefter and CBS analyst Charley Casserly reported on air that the New England Patriots' quarterback has been playing with three broken ribs for the past few weeks. Simmons was never credited as a source.

So how did Simmons vent his ire at being ignored? Why he tweeted, of course.

Hey, Bill, just a suggestion: Pick up the phone.

Worth Repeating:
"One of the problems is newspapers fired so many journalists and turned them loose to start so many blogs. They should have executed them. They wouldn't have had competition. But they foolishly let them out alive."

- Alan D. Mutter, a media consultant and blogger quoted in an excellent piece in the N.Y. Times looking at the dilemma being faced by many major news web sites of charging readers for their content.

SPJ Accuses NBC of 'Checkbook Journalism'

The Society of Professional Journalists has taken NBC and its Today Show to task for what it calls 'checkbook journalism.'

Over the Christmas holiday, the network paid to fly David Goldman and his son home from Brazil on its chartered jet after Goldman won a high-profile custody battle for the boy.

During the flight back, NBC took the opportunity that being about 30,000 feet in the air affords, and landed an exclusive interview with Goldman.

In its statement, the SPJ said that "by making itself part of a breaking news story on which it was reporting - apparently to cash in on the exclusivity assured by its expensive gesture - NBC jeopardized its journalistic independence and credibility in its initial and subsequent reports.

"In effect, the network branded the story as its own, creating a corporate and promotional interest in the way the story unfolds. NBC's ability to report the story fairly has been compromised by its financial involvement."

The network has denied that it paid for the interview and told Broadcast and Cable that, "NBC News has not and will not pay for an interview.

"The Goldmans were invited on a jet NBC News chartered to fly home to the U.S. on Thursday, Dec. 24. NBC News has followed this story since the Goldman's story first ran on Dateline nearly one year ago -- David Goldman since has appeared on Today seventeen times."

Essentially, NBC's defense seems to be that because it covered the story so extensively, it somehow had full rights to ownership of the story and was then able to handle its coverage any way it wished.

The SPJ, on the other hand, thinks the network has sacrificed its neutrality and objectivity by paying for the flight.

It seems pretty clear to us that if the Today Show was really interested in handling this as a hard-news story, it crossed a rather serious ethical line. Even if we are to believe that this wasn't the network's intent, the appearance is damning.

Additionally, NBC is not doing its news division any favors with its curious defense in this matter.

Notice that in their explanation, the network's hierarchy decided to throw the Today Show and its news department into the same pot.

By not differentiating between NBC News and the Today Show, one could take it that the leadership of the network condones this kind of newsgathering technique from all of its news teams.

We find this hard to believe, because it's fair to surmise that many viewers see the Today Show and NBC News as two separate entities.

The network's one-for-all, all-for-one approach in explaining away this incident has opened a can of worms here.

If NBC truly does condone this type of newsgathering technique from all its staff, it would then rightfully call into question what type of journalistic tenets (if any) were being followed the next time NBC News scored an 'exclusive' interview with a newsmaker. Did the network acquire the interview thanks to some good shoe-leather hustle, or because it was Johnny on the spot with a favor or two?

If the brass at NBC had come to the defense of just the Today Show, and not NBC News as a whole in this case, it would have made it no less grievous, but easier to swallow. That it chose to defend its whole newsgathering team at the network by condoning the way this interview was obtained is concerning.

Two New Eyes With So Much to Watch

In a world that just has to be spinning faster than ever before, has anything changed more than how the media operates, and how we process and receive all the information it is providing - and literally every second?

It really wasn't so long ago that all one needed - and could get - was a good newspaper or two, 30 minutes of TV news, and a radio dial locked into a local station to feel informed and up to date on all that was happening around them.

Were they simpler times? It seems like it, but every day I wake up, the day before seems simpler.

I am an old newspaper guy. Growing up, I thought the greatest job in the world surely had to be that of a sports reporter. I began thinking this right after it became painfully clear to me that I would never generate a living playing a game.

I started as a voracious newspaper reader, broke into the business as a sports reporter, became an editor, then a news manager, and finally a managing editor. It was hard work, but it was the best job in the world - besides, of course, those lucky stiffs that got paid for playing games.

As I progressed through my newspaper career, people began finding their news in many more places. Cable TV and 24-hour news and sports channels sprung up. Every year, there were more channels and more news. And there were fewer newspapers ...

Then came the Internet. And there were even fewer newspapers ...

Honestly, keeping watch on the media and how it is doing its job is impossible. There is just so much of it these days. Even the definition of 'news' seems to be changing right before our eyes. For instance, there is far too much partisanship in the media for my liking, but it seems as if there is no going back now.

My gosh, there is so much news, just keeping watch of the people who watch the media encompasses several full-time jobs.

But I've been charged to do just that - monitor the media and how it does its job, and how its job is changing. Every effort will be made to provide a thorough look at the most important trends in the business, how news is presented, and how, if at all, standards are changing.

Good work and developments in the media will be applauded, and when criticism is tendered, it will be backed by reason.

I will also encourage you to let me know how I am doing, and still love a good, juicy tip just as much as the next newshound. So fire away!

- Doug Clawson, January 2010