17). He is disgusted that news executives that direct what should be covered are less interested in "what's happening in Afghanistan" but more interested in "Michael Jackson and Laci Peterson" (Fenton, p. 20).
What are the excuses TV executives, editors and producers give for focusing on scandal, sexual trysts, and embarrassing situations for celebrities? Fenton claims that those "gatekeepers of the news" will tell anyone listening that "the average [viewer] simply cannot absorb that much hard news, especially about events abroad" (p. 20). The CBS veteran insists that the media power brokers believe that "Americans are too broadly under-informed to digest nuggets of information that seem to contradict what they know of the world" (p. 20). That would seem to be a very condescending, elitist attitude on the part of the TV industry in particular.
Fenton (p. 22) asserts that because of the very real threats of terrorism on the ground here in the U.S. "nothing can trump hard information about our security -- not even weight loss programs or the sex lives of politicians." American is alert to the dangers of junk food, Fenton concludes, now is the time "to launch the fight against junk news" (Fenton, p. 22). In critiquing the Fenton book, the Reed Business Information group reports that even long time CBS News anchor and icon Walter Cronkite admits he doesn't watch the CBS Evening News anymore. "Nothing there but crime and sob sister material," he says. Cutbacks, "bottom-line fever" (obsession to profit rather than report valid news), and "CEO-mandated news criteria" have resulted in "an industry-wide dumbing-down" on the news, Reed Business Information stated.
What caused these problems? The national media has an obsession with celebrities
Michael Massing writes in the Columbia Journalism Review that Katie Couric's salary is $15 million a year, more than the National Public Radio spends annually on its morning (Morning Edition) and afternoon (All Things Considered) shows. So money plays a big role in the cable TV medium, but celebrity and good looks play a part too. For example, when Diane Sawyer was announced as the next anchor of ABC's World News, the New York Times featured a "giant air-brushed photo of Sawyer" on the top third of its Week in Review section. Times' reporter Alessandra Stanley wrote the following (and here is yet another example of the media's obsessive approach to celebrity as Sawyer is definitely a celebrity): "Sawyer is a gorgeous, glamorous television personality who got the job by waiting around" (Massing is quoting Stanley). Stanley went on to refer to Sawyer as having "golden allure" and "teen beauty status"; "At 63 she is almost absurdly good looking" and therefore she "was born to be an evening anchor" (Massing, p. 2).
Massing also quotes from Washington Post critic Howard Kurtz who gushed over Sawyer and added that "…network anchors still command considerable prestige and lead the coverage of disasters, political conventions and other breaking-news events" (Massing). Kurtz did not, in his review of Sawyer's upcoming assignment, mention "how shallow the network news has become" and the fact that the "networks are in a death spiral, yet they keep airing the same tired product" (Massing, p. 20).
Suggestions / Solutions for better, less violent / less celebrity-influenced TV news
The Columbia Journalism Review (Downie, et al., 2009) has proposed that local independent non-profit news outlets could be created; "Low-profit Limited Liability Corporate" (L3Cs) entities could be set up to report honest, non-violent and relevant local and regional news. People would tune in, it would be safe for children, and sponsors could be solicited to cover production costs. Foundations, philanthropists, and community nonprofit fundraising groups could "substantially increase their support for news organizations" on a local level, Downie explains, and his ideas make a lot of sense. Another suggestion: "If community foundations were to allocate just 1% of their giving to local news reporting" -- and local reporters would collaborate with university journalism departments -- new, local, honest news organizations could be developed to eschew the violence and celebrity-related pap that now dominates the airwaves.
Dorfman, Lori, Woodruff, Katie, Chavez, Vivian, and Wallack, Lawrence. "Youth and Violence
On Local Television News in California." American Journal of Public Health 87.8 (1997):
Downie, Leonard, and Schudson, Michael. "The Reconstruction of American Journalism."
Columbia Journalism Review (Oct. 19, 2009).
Kite, Paul. "TV News and the Culture of Violence." Rocky Mountain Media Watch. Retrieved December 4, 2009, from http://www.bigmedia.org/texts6.html.
Fenton, Tom. Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All. New York: HarperCollins,…