Posts Tagged ‘CBS News’


Twitter Fight Points to Larger Problem

Photo: Diego Cambiaso

A post on Twitter ignited a discussion Sunday about the type of relationship that exists between President-elect Donald Trump and MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The specifics of that issue are currently being debated across the news media.

The press should take note of the issue at the heart of this current uproar as it looks to reboot itself in 2017. The issue is the relationships journalists and news media figures sometimes share with politicians and powerbrokers.

Journalists and newsroom leaders historically shared very cozy relationships with politicians, as Scarborough pointed out Monday in The Washington Post. Orthodox followers of the Society’s Code of Ethics should be shocked by the behaviors of journalism’s greatest icons.

Edward R. Murrow left CBS News in 1961 to lead the propaganda arm of the U.S. government for President John Kennedy, as Scarborough points out in his editorial.

History and precedent in this case shouldn’t dictate journalists’ future behaviors, however.

Public behavior during the recent elections and survey results from Gallup showing trust in the news media at historically low levels should be enough to convince journalists and newsroom leaders that business as usual is no longer good business.

News organizations often operate under the theory that their readers, viewers and listeners crave an insider’s perspective on news stories. As a result, opinion pages and airwaves are filled with former politicians and political operatives offering their thoughts on current events.

The problem with this theory is that more and more journalists and news media figures view themselves as insiders and the public on the receiving end of the reports continues to feel like outsiders.

Journalists and newsrooms need to shed their insider perspectives and embrace their intended roles as outsiders and representatives of the public.

Journalists should no longer view themselves as cogs in a large piece of machinery that tries to explain themselves to random bystanders. They should view themselves as bystanders with the tools to explain the machinery to their peers.

Foundational shifts such as the one I suggest are difficult to accomplish, but they are sometimes necessary to strengthen the overall structure. A change of perspective within journalism is long overdue.

The specific steps to shedding the press’s insider perspective are debatable, but the easiest move is to get journalists to interact more with the public.

Newsrooms should consider holding meet-and-greets, open houses and other community events. Journalists can also take it upon themselves to explore unfamiliar neighborhoods and communities.

Journalists should take notice of the people they meet at those events and in communities. Mental pictures and notes of people, their circumstances and daily lives can serve as powerful reminders of the people on the receiving end of news stories.

Journalists will always need to develop and depend on professional relationships with politicians and powerbrokers, but those relationships should have defined boundaries. Journalists should know at all times that they represent the public, which mostly consists of non-politicians.

A shift in perspective won’t happen overnight. Some journalists will also never change their behaviors. Those challenges shouldn’t keep journalism’s practitioners from trying to better the profession and recommit themselves to its noble purpose.


Andrew M. Seaman is the ethics committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists.

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CBS’s 60 Minutes Airs Graphic Footage

People who tuned into CBS’s 60 Minutes on Sunday night watched “the most disturbing footage in its 47-year history,” according to the network.

The footage was part of a segment presented by Scott Pelley, the anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News. The  segment focused on a 2013 sarin gas attack near the Syrian city of Damascus. The U.S. estimates that the attack killed an estimated 1,429 civilians. About a third of the deaths were children, according to CBS.

I often highlight journalism missteps on this blog, but – in this case – I’d like to applaud CBS for explaining why it decided to show such graphic footage, which included images of  seizures, vomiting and respiratory failure.

“We just wanted to stop and show it to the world so that people can understand the hideousness of this weapon,” Pelley says in an article explaining the decision to air the footage.

While it’s not an often cited principle, the Society’s Code of Ethics says ethical journalists should “explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.”

In fact, the Code elevates the idea under the tenet of “be accountable and transparent,” which explains that “ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.”

By explaining its choice to the public, CBS shows that it put thought into what viewers would be exposed to during the broadcast.

The Poynter Institute‘s Al Tompkins has a detailed explanation of CBS’s decision here: http://bit.ly/1Ixjf8N

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