On July 10, the Gallup organization announced the results of its latest poll on America's confidence in various institutions with the headline Americans' Confidence in Television News Drops to New Low:
Americans' confidence in television news is at a new low by one percentage point, with 21% of adults expressing a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in it. This marks a decline from 27% last year and from 46% when Gallup started tracking confidence in television news in 1993.
The findings are from Gallup's annual update on confidence in U.S. institutions, conducted June 7-10 this year. As such, the findings preceded the erroneous initial reports by cable-news networks CNN and Fox News regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's June 28 decision about the constitutionality of the U.S. healthcare law.
Producer/writer Aaron Sorkin could not have chosen better time for the debut of his HBO program Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels as the self-absorbed but journalistically righteous anchor Will McAvoy and Emily Mortimer as pro-integrity and anti-ratings executive producer MacKenzie McHale.
Sorkin obviously knew of Americans' disgust with TV news as he was developing Newsroom and clearly is attempting to show the conflict between the type of ratings-driven pandering done by Fox News, MSNBC (now NBC News), CNN, and especially local TV stations to journalistically sound reporting done only by NPR Radio in the broadcast and cable realm.
Newsroom is entertaining in focusing on the problem, but Sorkin hasn't yet, as of episode four, indicated who's to blame for the ratings-and-profit-driven news pandering, although in episode three there is a hint that the CEO of McAvoy's ACN (played briefly but chillingly by Jane Fonda) might be to blame. We'll see.
Also, the Gallup poll indicated:
Among 16 U.S. institutions tested, television news ranks 11th, following newspapers in 10th place. The 25% of adults who express a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers is down slightly from 28% last year. Confidence in newspapers is now half of what it was at its peak of 51% in 1979.
So, the credibility of two once admired legacy mediums, television news and newspapers, are at all- time lows. Who's to blame? Is it bloviating, self-absorbed talent like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, or Keith Olbermann in television, or the inaccurate, self-absorbed reporters in newspapers like Jason Blair, Judith Miller (ex NY Times, now Fox News, of course), or Alessandra Stanley (NY Times TV critic and reporter)?
Even though the bloviators and reporters (I don't know of an equivalent adjective similar to "bloviator" for newspaper journalists) mentioned above are consistently inaccurate and lack basic journalistic truth telling, they are just doing what management allows them to get away with. Therefore, who's to blame – management. Top management.
So we shouldn't blame Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Keith Olbermann, Jason Blair, Judith Miller, or Alessandra Stanley, the blame must be placed on the greedy Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bewkes, Arthur Sulzberger, and other corporate executives whose decisions about news and journalism are based primarily on their grossly bloated bonuses, not on public service, public trust, or on credibility.
What these short-term-oriented, greedy CEOs don't realize is that advertising and subscription revenue will eventually parallel the downward slope of credibility. They need to take a page out Steve Jobs' management book and focus on products that delight consumers and not on profits. Profits will come, like they did at Apple if the products are superb – and credible with consumers.
Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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