For NBC, it’s more than just about Brian Williams

For NBC News, there is more to answer than the issue surrounding its star anchor, Brian Williams. (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

For NBC News, there is more to answer than the issue surrounding its star anchor, Brian Williams.
(Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Brian Williams has not had an easy year. The anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News was suspended without pay in February after concerns were raised about an account he gave of reporting during the Iraq War, saying a helicopter he had been in was shot down by rocket fire.

Since that occasion, investigations have been taking place within NBC about his reporting and the accounts he gave of other events, and it has emerged that 11 instances have occurred where Williams fabricated the accounts of covering certain events.

According to a report on the subject in the Washington Post, these instances include not just the situation in Iraq, but also the coverage of Israeli military action against the group Hezbollah in 2006, and the reporting of events at Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring political movement in 2011.

The report, the New York Times adds, is not due to make the conclusions on whether Williams will return from his suspension in August.

As this investigation, and indeed the debate continues on whether Williams will return to the network, there are wider questions to be answered regarding NBC’s own journalism ethics, and in an age where information and news can be accessed beyond the network’s flagship broadcasts, whether it can still remain a source people can confide in for information about the important events of the day.

In the mid-20th century, Americans relied on radio, newspapers, and the early days of television to be informed about the events. Personalities like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, and later Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer became household names, with viewers placing their trust with them and their respective programs to give an honest, forthright account of events, whether they were big or small, or whether they took place in your own backyard or half a world away.

NBC executives at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York hope audiences can continue to trust them for news. (Photo: djdave217/Flickr under CC)

NBC executives at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York hope audiences can continue to trust them for news and information. (Photo: djdave217/Flickr under CC)

The question of trust in journalism has changed since then to include the internet and the multitudes of social media platforms, notably Facebook and Twitter, and as these mediums evolve, so too has the journalism. News organizations recognize the value the internet has in getting the message out there to millions of users. For the vast majority of Americans, no longer does the half hour evening news program become the big news attraction—it becomes, for the broadcast networks, merely an extension of a multi-platform 24 hour journalistic operation.

It is this idea that raises the million dollar question, for the actions taken by NBC are not just about whether Brian Williams retains his job and office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York come August, but whether consumers can come back to the offerings full circle—broadcast, web and social, after the fact.

That is a question that cannot be solved by a managerial shakeup, an internal inquiry, nor a change in person presenting the program, but rather the consumers themselves, and whether they will vote with their remotes or their computers or mobile devices in favor or against a network trying to ensure its feet touch the ground.

Therefore, for NBC, there is more at stake than just what to do with Brian Williams. It is whether it can still maintain its relationship with its audience, and keep doing what they were supposed to be doing in the first place, doing honest, forthright journalism, for the many, and not the few, no matter the platform.

Stay tuned for the answer.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is a contributing blogger for Net Worked, and serves as Community Coordinator for SPJ. Veeneman also is Deputy Editor, Media Editor and a writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. Veeneman also blogs on social media and digital culture for the web site ChicagoNowYou can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post are that of the author’s unless otherwise indicated, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital executive, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ