This is CNN…unfortunately

Those of us who remember when the fledgling Cable News Network began its run also probably can still hear the deep voice of James Earl Jones saying, “This is CNN…” on their promos.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I always thought a 24-hour news station would provide endless possibilities for news coverage — investigative, in-depth and insightful. Too bad we don’t have a 24 hour news cycle that meets those criteria. Instead, in the United States at least, we have just a few hours of news repeated multiple times and opinionated hatefests scattered across the networks to fill time and sell advertising.

CNN certainly isn’t the only network blowing a wasted opportunity to actually serve the public good and take the journalism industry’s credibility and importance to new heights. Back in the 1980s, as cable TV opened our eyes to the potential of 24 hours of news coverage, we still had no clue what today’s mobile, instant-access technology would be capable of delivering. But CNN, FOX, MSNBC and, sadly, even some local TV news outlets, have squandered it all in the name of expediency over accuracy and titillation over veracity.

This age of Internet-based news outlets isn’t helping, as people have come to rely on blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates for their “news.” Well, here’s a newsflash: the ability to type or speak into a TV microphone does not make  you a journalist. It’s unfortunate that people aren’t holding journalists to a higher standard of professionalism. Even CNN’s foray into social media is failing us. They used the all-powerful Twitter feed yesterday to put out “breaking news” that Sandra Bullock was getting a divorce. If society is ever to trust the Fourth Estate again, they need to believe that they are being given information that is as unbiased and fair as possible. That means the politically driven agendas need to stop. That means “professional journalist” needs to reference someone trained and experienced in digging through the propaganda of news releases to find the real story, and having the resources and the chutzpah to write the stories that need to be written.

I stumbled upon a site the other day via Twitter called WTFCNN.com. It’s exactly what you’d think — a site dedicated to pointing out how ridiculous CNN’s online front page has become when compared with other news sites in the U.S. and around the world. The welcome screen explains it best:

Dear CNN,

We know you think this is what we want, but it’s not. We don’t care what random Tweeters think about a news story, how many holograms you have in your Situation Room, or even the latest celebrity gossip. We care about our world. Instead of using your resources to do the journalism that gives us a better understanding of this world — we get the front page of CNN.com. Why do we have to look enviously at the front page of Al-Jazeera English for a better sampling of important news stories at any given time?

The site has a split screen, with CNN on the top and a site of your choice at the bottom, ranging from NPR in the United States, to the BBC in the United Kingdom and Al-Jazeera (in English) from Qatar. You can also check out a similar comparison of FOX News with these sites.

I’ve found myself tuning into the BBC via Sirius Radio lately when I want real news. I still have a preset for CNN and FOX on my radio, but I almost always scan past it because of content that is insulting, annoying or simply pointless. Recently, I was flipping between the three stations to do a quick comparison of stories at that moment. I found FOX going in-depth into Larry King’s eighth divorce and CNN analyzing the reaction of Tiger Woods’ wife to the Nike commercial starring his dead father. Then I switched to the BBC and found myself drawn into a report about China’s economy and growing concerns over the growth of its Gross Domestic Product and the potential for a Chinese recession.

Certainly, not every news outlet will always get it right. And the folks at CNN and FOX will probably argue that they are giving the people what they want. Well, I’m one of those people, and I don’t think they are. I also don’t believe I’m alone. Not everyone will care about China’s economic issues, even though they probably should because of the impact it could have on their lives. But wouldn’t it be nice to hit a story like that, decide it’s not something you’re interested in, and be able to flip to another important news story at another news outlet? Wouldn’t it be great if there were more outlets delivering news that matters and not the pop culture drivel and political propaganda being spewed by “experts” and “consultants” who are nothing more than hired guns?

What do you think? Will the major U.S. news networks start to deliver news again? Or am I just old-fashioned, longing for the days when important, accurate stories were being told to us by professional journalists we could trust?

(CNN logo photo courtesy of Alan Stoddard’s Flickr stream.)

“Breaking News” is broken

Earlier this week when Tiger Woods announced he was going to have a news conference, the media began tripping over itself to share the announcement. In breathless breaking news alerts they proclaimed “Tiger Woods to speak for first time since accident.”

OK, I highly doubt Tiger had not uttered a word since his Escalade kissed a tree. What the media should have been writing was, “Tiger Woods to speak publicly for first time since accident.”

Of course, I would have preferred they didn’t report anything about Tiger and his made-for-TV-movie life. I certainly didn’t need days of breaking news alerts about the anticipated confession. I didn’t need an analysis about what people thought he was going to say. And I really didn’t need follow-up reviews of what he said, which one news outlet proclaimed would be examined “word for word” to find out what Tiger really meant. There were even news reports popping up later concerning one of Tiger’s mistresses demanding an apology from him as well.

After seeing that “news,” I posted to Twitter and Facebook with: “Tiger cheated; he’s sorry. His tramps want more attention. In other breaking news, the Earth is round.”

The worst offense in all of this media hara kiri I have to reserve for the TV networks that decided to carry the scripted nonsense live. Daytime programming was interrupted so people could watch something that belonged on the late night talk shows — as a joke.

Not everyone in the news business was happy about the decision. My hat is off to WLNS TV 6 in Lansing, Mich., which posted this on its Facebook page:

CBS will interrupt “The Price Is Right” at 11am to bring you a special report on the Tiger Woods talk. Since this talk is happening during CBS programming, WLNS is obligated to run it. Our apologies to TPIR fans.

Good for them. It’s nice to see there is some sense of normalcy in Lansing newsrooms. I had a media acquaintance of mine put it much less delicately than TV 6 did. He told me, “It used to be Special Reports were for when a President died, not when a golfer f**ked around.”

Unfortunately, “breaking news” is broken. It’s time for news consumers to break out the duct tape and try to fix it. We need to speak up and tell the news outlets that we want news that is relevant to our lives, not press conferences that remind us of the Jerry Springer Show.

So, here’s a little help to get you started. Reach out to the major networks that force-fed us this trash. Tell them Tiger is an endangered species, and if they don’t clean up their act, they will be, too.

ABC

NBC

CBS

FOX

CNN

(Image courtesy of CBS News, which is pretty sad when you think about it.)

Get the opinionated commentators on their own network

reportersnotebookI’ve always dreaded the day I would turn into the guy that said, “Back in my day…” But, alas, it’s finally happened. I can’t take it anymore. The sullying of the news industry is moving at a breakneck pace and something has to change.

So, as I was saying, back in my day when I was a newspaper reporter, it was vitally important that no one knew my personal opinion on anything. I never discussed religion or politics with anyone unless it was to get their comment for a story. I didn’t profess an opinion on much of anything and while most people probably didn’t realize I was consciously doing this, I bet that if you had asked them where I stood on an issue, they would have been hard-pressed to figure it out.

That was all a part of my attempt to remain as objective as possible when reporting on a story. But, more importantly, it was a way for me to eliminate any perceived conflicts with sources. I didn’t ever want someone thinking they wouldn’t get fair treatment in one of my stories because I was biased in some way against them or their issue.

It’s too bad the current cable television news channels don’t practice this division between fact and opinion. Ask people why they watch CNN, Fox or MSNBC, and it will probably be because they think the networks they don’t watch are too biased to the left or right.

It’s also no wonder that this happens though, when you consider that the line between news and commentary is blurred regularly on all of the networks. Too often, the morning “news” shows are full of opinionated comments from the hosts about the news they are covering. Throughout the evening, the “news” networks are filled with shows based on personalities known more for their vitriolic tirades than their commitment to sharing fact-based news with their viewers.

I’m not suggesting there isn’t a place for opinion-based commentary on TV. After all, newspaper columnists and radio talk show hosts have been informing and entertaining people for many years. But newspaper publishers, radio station owners and even local TV news outlets have traditionally done a better job with drawing a distinctive line between what is news and what is opinion. On the cable TV networks, however, this line is blurred.

That’s why it’s time to get the opinionated commentators on their own network. Call it CNN-Commentary or Fox Opinion — but get it off the news stations. If we don’t get the opinion out of the news broadcasts on TV, we are going to continue to see the erosion of the journalism industry as a whole.

Get the opinions out of the news and you’ll soon see credibility working its way back in. It’s not too late — is it?

(Image courtesy of Knight Science Journalism Tracker)

Olympic-Size Hatred

2008_4_16.ologos

It was troubling to listen to the news coverage of the Olympic Committee’s selection of Rio de Janeiro as the host of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The attitude being displayed by the “news”casters on CNN was ridiculous, and it was hard not to feel some embarrassment for the United States being a poor loser if the world took CNN’s views as representative of the country as a whole. Were they upset because they are a left-leaning news organization and were extra frustrated because President Obama couldn’t deliver the games to Chicago?

Perhaps, because on the other side of the political spectrum was the Fox News channel, with their version of a biased blowhard — Glenn Beck — who was elated that Chicago lost.

The reality is that both sides need to get a grip. The Left needs to see that Obama can’t make everything happen, but the Right needs to realize that everything that goes wrong is not Obama’s fault. Listening to the partisan newscasts and watching the Facebook and Twitter feeds from the Democratic and Republican party faithful was frustrating for me.

No matter what the outcome of the Chicago bid for the Olympics, folks on the far Right would have found a reason to hate it. We lost, so they’re saying it’s Obama’s fault and even celebrating the loss. If we had won, they would have argued it was just Obama greasing the skids for his Chicago cronies.

Because Obama went to Copenhagen, the Right is arguing he wasted tax dollars. But if he hadn’t gone, he probably would have been accused of letting the country down and been labeled as not caring.

What does spitting this much venom at people do for the good of the country? The Left did it against Bush and the Right seems to think it’s payback time.

The politics of hatred from both sides is unbelievable. I’m sick of the schoolyard mentality of our political and party  leaders. I’m interested in promoting and protecting common sense, which is one of the first casualties when people start drinking the Kool-Aid from the cups adorned with either an elephant or a donkey.

Both sides of the political spectrum are proving lately that they are so blinded by hate for each other that those of us in the middle mean nothing, nor does the future of this country. I doubt I’m alone in believing that we have the greatest country in the world not because of the Republican or Democratic parties, but in spite of them.

Where is the independent or third-party candidate we can believe in? When will voters wake up, get informed, and stop giving in to the idea that only an R or a D behind your name will get you to the White House, or Congress, or a state Capitol building?

Am I just too cynical and bitter toward the status quo? Am I alone feeling this way? Should I sit back with a Kool-Aid of my choice and just let things happen as they may?

Let’s have an honest and open discussion about what’s going on in this country once and for all. I’m open-minded and am willing to be shown where I’m wrong and why I should believe in one major party or the other. But the challenge is yours to convince me, because I’m quite fed up with both sides right now.

If no one gets your joke, is it still funny?

On April 15, conservatives, libertarians and lots of other folks who claim they are sick of high taxes and government out of control decided to hold a modern-era “tea party.”

In Lansing, Michigan, there were an estimated 5,000 people packed shoulder to shoulder on the Capitol lawn, as shown in this photo taken from one of the Capitol balconies: capitol-tea-party

I’ve often said that CNN and FOX were doing themselves a disservice by mixing commentary with news and deciding it’s OK to be classified as the “liberal” or “conservative” news outlets.

This piece from CNN covering the Chicago tea party shows some of the more blatant lack of journalistic standards of that network, and listening to just a few minutes of FOX “news” on any given morning will give you a taste of that network’s rightward lean.

But now much of the coverage of the tea party events across the country has been taking a beating because of the incessant use of the term “teabagging” to describe the activities of the day and the protesters’ plans for additional actions against President Barack Obama’s economic plans.

For those of you who don’t know, “teabagging” is a term used to describe the sexual act of a man placing his testicles into someone’s mouth.

Is it really a left-wing conspiracy to make a joke of the protesters’ activities by using that term? And, even if it is, what do the right-wing faithful intent on calling out CNN and other news outlets for their handling of the coverage think they are going to accomplish?

Let’s say, for sake of argument, that CNN’s leaders and others decided they’d make a joke about the tea parties. How many folks really knew what teabagging was before people started complaining about the use of the term? If no one gets your joke, is it still funny?

By protesting the media coverage of their protests, the protesters are only hurting themselves. They have decided that the coverage of the events is more important, thereby making the coverage of their protests of the coverage more likely to get news coverage. In the meantime, the coverage of the original tea party protests is falling by the wayside. In addition, they are now letting millions of people in on the joke allegedly being perpetrated against them.

Are people talking about tea party protests, the need to get taxes in this country under control or the groundswell of citizens wanting to become the government again? No — instead, people are spending their time on Google researching sexual references. The organizers of the tea parties have lost their message, they’ve lost their way and they’ve lost their effectiveness on this issue. Hey, when I put it that way, it sounds like they have indeed become the government!

(Photo courtesy of Jessi Wortley)