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.)

That’s the way it will be…

“That’s the way it is…” holds its place in history like many famous phrases, but for me it holds a special place because it represents an era when journalists and their industry were held in high regard. That line was the patented farewell each night from Walter Cronkite, who sat in the CBS Nightly News anchor chair for two decades.

The world lost a great journalist  when Cronkite died. You can read about his rise through the ranks to the “most trusted man in America” in a thorough column from Al Tompkins at Poynter. You also can read and watch excerpts from the nice postmortem documentary CBS News produced on its former anchorman. (The banner below is courtesy of CBS News.)

What’s more disheartening than losing Cronkite is that we in America seem to have lost the last truly trusted newsman. Perhaps we have done this to ourselves, however, because we have become so insistent on getting every piece of news instantly, even if it’s not entirely accurate. We also are too easily satisfied by reading or viewing a story that is merely a shadow of what it could be because there are no resources in the newsrooms to pursue all angles fully.

We also have become too comfortable with accepting the word of any yahoo with a keyboard and an Internet connection as credible, simply because they’ve figured out how to post to a blog. (You can include me in that group if you want. However, I think I make it pretty clear on this blog that what you are reading here is my opinion mixed in with the facts, which I substantiate with credible sources.) We also too easily accept the opinion of people on the various cable networks posing as newsmen and newswomen who really are not much more than self-aggrandizing talk show hosts — the video equivalent of screaming radio shock jocks merely interested in stirring up the masses to get attention.

Amy Mengel wrote about bloggers not being journalists in a recent blog post. I often have to cover this topic when I make presentations about social media and online issues. I have to remind people to whom I’m speaking that bloggers are not journalists. There is no code of ethics among bloggers and there are no rules. Bloggers can say and do what they want in the ultimate display of First Amendment rights since the thing was written.

After the sound of gnashing and grinding teeth subsides at those presentations, I also remind them that it’s OK that bloggers don’t follow the same rules as journalists. What’s more important to me is that there should be rules for readers.

Reporters — professional journalists — have a code of ethics they are expected to follow. They have an industry to protect and their own credibility to defend. The majority of them care about getting the story right and often are frustrated that the bean counters running the show don’t give them the time they need to pursue a story to its full potential.

It is incumbent upon readers, therefore, to be more critical of the news they are receiving. They need always to consider the source of the news and the sources of those who are doing the reporting. And, most important, they need to keep in mind there is a difference between reporting something and being a reporter.

For now, we seem to have lost our way as an audience when it comes to the news of the day, and until we start playing by the rules, that’s the way it will be.

In fond memory…

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