These are extraordinary times.
Today, we live in an historic time where “the news” and the importance of reliable reporting may be paramount to our very survival. I say this, because there are no longer limited exchanges of information between governments, countries and, most of all, people.
Before “now,” there was only a smattering of news media sources, the general public relying solely on newspapers fed by two wire services (AP, UPI), short radio news broadcasts fed also by the same wire services along with audio from national networks, and evening network television newscasts with only 22 minutes of content—excluding commercials for Slinkys and cigarettes—and only from CBS and NBC, later joined by ABC and then NET (National Educational Television), the precursor of PBS.
First, some background.
Not too young to understand what was happening in the early 1960’s and already an experienced, working newsman in the 1970’s, I believe the times we live in today surpass the dangers we see today and the importance of news in the eras of Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy combined.
There is just nothing that compares to the inexorable perils we are facing today, especially given the examples I’ve mentioned previously. Trust me on this: I was there. I want to caution you, not scare you, because all of us need to maintain level heads and a reasonable response, as well as an awareness of reality, along with an intractable vigilance of the happenings in the world today. This is true—even more so—for those who are our leaders.
Leaders on whom we rely to keep us safe from enemies of the state and enemies of the truth.
Turns out he was a crook.
A President of the United States entangled in a crooks-and-liars story involving petty theft and the premise of a fixed General Election is nothing to dismiss. A complete embarrassment to the country I hold so dear, this Republican President, Nixon, was so egotistical, he surreptitiously bugged his own office in an effort to gain leverage over those that met with him in the Oval.
Then, using a network of underlings, he directed a cadre of common thugs to break into the Watergate Hotel offices of the opposition political party in an effort to glean their campaign plans before the upcoming election for his second term.
It didn’t work out.
They were caught! Proudly, the news media led the charge. Nevertheless, Nixon believed he could break the law, with impunity—and get away with it! He once famously said into the camera, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Though, in a way, he did get away it; with our chain-of-command succession, new President Gerald R. Ford, Nixon’s appointed Vice President, quickly pardoned this criminal—before he was ever charged and tried!
Instead of handcuffs and a small prison cell, “Tricky Dick” boarded a Marine helicopter and waved goodbye with a victory gesture—suckers!
Russian-American Face Off.
In the fall of 1962, a deadly global dilemma played out behind closed doors involving atomic bombs, two superpowers and a Banana Republic dictator—all coming together on a chilly October day after the Soviet Union (USSR) had secretly smuggled into and placed nuclear weapons on the Island of Cuba. The “Cuban Missile Crisis” was centered just 103 miles from the Florida coast as long-range missiles were placed in a position that threatened the entire planet with unimaginable destruction—and an horrific aftermath.
This, after Soviet Premier, Nikita Khrushchev, had already spooked every American with the launch, a few years earlier, of something very new and concerning—a satellite (Sputnik 1)—representing the specter of death raining down from high above the earth. I can clearly remember my mother being terrified of an orbiting, simple radio transmitter sending out a regular tone indicating its position in the heavens.
These were troubling times for The People on earth.
Deception, denials, lies and not-so-secret secrets.
It was the responsibility of the news media to relay honest—and correct—information to the masses about the goings-on during these frightening events. And, for the most part, there was a concerted and conservative effort made to tell the public what was truly happening in their backyards.
Oh the government of the United States tried to control the narrative of these events, even by lying to the press about what was happening, but it was up to journalists to shape the messages of truth delivered to us. From “unnamed sources” spilling the beans to vetted and verified claims by people who tried their very best to lead everyone astray, the whole picture of what was really happening had to be pieced together by journalistic expertise, careful writing and a dedication to the truth.
Only afterwords did we learn how close we came—in both a widespread nuclear exchange and of Nixon’s demise—to seeing the end of civilization, as we know it, or the destruction of our Republic from a common criminal cloistered in the White House.
And then came “the cable.”
With the stringing of coaxial cable across America, a new form of news coverage was born: the 24 hour a day news cycle. The problems it presented, not the least of which was filling all of that time, was clearly a technical challenge and one of editorial choices.
As the requirements of getting stories on the air in a timely manner were met, news organizations struggled with the new time frame—once dictated by developing camera film and writing using typewriters—the news was now being rushed into production and sent to air using technologies that were completely forgiving of our human error.
The honorable editor’s profession of responsible review and reliable accounting of facts was under siege by the clock—more so than any previous deadline had presented to writers of history’s first draft.
We lost something there.
Instead of measured, carefully considered editing, we turned on the satellite feed, plugged it into the cable and out it went—only to be “paneled” by talking heads, in real-time, after the fact. The viewing audience was left on their own during the live feed. And, if they were still around after the raw video had concluded, they were subjected to personal commentary by a panel of not-so-expert experts.
My friends, we failed them. And then, it got worse.
All hail the internet!
The journalistic filter of real journalism the majority of folks relied upon was gone, for the most part. And, suddenly, anyone with a modem connection could generate “news” and, later, “FakeNews.” A relative few would still be reading newspapers to connect the dots and the daily network and local newscasts remained but, the reality of competition had, now, two new ingredients in the mix: 24/7 cable news and internet-based who-knows-what.
Added to this mélange was the introduction of a Facebook wall and a Twitter feed! This recipe for disaster was baked into the dissemination of real news—and journalistic integrity has suffered greatly. This hasn’t gone unnoticed, or unaddressed, by the public. Indeed, the media has been a new focal point of mistrust, even outrage, lately. Taking advantage of this critical condition are political parties and agenda-centric organizations, as well.
No, Tweet YOU!
A President of the United States, sitting on a gold-plated toilet, can now communicate directly to his “followers” without the watchful eyes of expert editors with expertise in parsing the real from the unreal. It may please his base that absolutely hates the media, but it removes from the equation journalists’ questions about his motivations and his accountability to the public discourse.
And there are now questions about the misuse of government accounts versus personal accounts that remain in flux.
The perceptions the audience have of media bias or even malfeasance are more than evident. We must recognize this is the new environs in which the news is consumed, used and manipulated by those who are hardly acting in the public’s interest. Denying this reality will be the death knell of our industry.
Believe me—or suffer the consequences!
Today’s news consumer.
The audience is aching for truth and clarity. They aren’t getting their fill of it. And, without a journalistic approach that the average American does not possess, they are truly confused by conflicting facts and figures—some of them “alt-facts”—requiring another new type of service: fact checking!
To use a meme, they’re “mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.” At least, not for long. Do not fret. This “problem” can be rectified. You may not think so, so allow me to solve the problem, right here on another off-the-chain information source: the blog.
This way to the egress.
First and foremost, today’s journalists must re-dedicate themselves to the three things we’ve always done in the past: attribute, attribute and attribute. I don’t care if you prefer “said” or “says,” and neither will consumers but, source everything. And source it accurately.
“The President said,” “Congress has passed,” “The police report,” and “Scientists conclude,” are far superior to The President believes, Congress is considering, police think and scientists are working on….
And if it takes a little longer to get stories on the air, by all means, LET the work take a little longer—to get it right! PUSH BACK against your editor if they are amateurs. TEACH THEM how to do news! It’s entirely possible that you know more than they do (it’s how you move to a bigger market and then a network).
CHOOSE your words carefully. LEAVE the commentary to the talking heads (stick to facts). DON’T convict anyone in your stories, unless they’ve been actually convicted. DON’T shame victims! RESPECT the people to whom you are shoving a microphone in their face! Take the time to THANK THEM for talking with you! BE NICE to PIO’s; they are people, too (DON’T fuck me on this if I happen to get them next!).
And Jesus H. Christ, fellow newsers, DON’T get your information from Twitter or Facebook—unless it’s an official source (police, hospitals, etc…).
Trust me on this, also: your readers, listeners and viewers will thank you—for being a journalist.
A REAL journalist.
And news mangers? Let’s be honest. NO ONE in the audience gives a shit who got the story first! THAT is your ego talking to yourself in the mirror! You are being unprofessional and reckless with your reputation and your newsroom’s reputation if you are playing some incredibly stupid marketing game of who’s first—instead of concentrating on doing real news that’s accurate and factual.
Just because everything digital is instant doesn’t mean YOU have to be instant! Any craftsman of ANY profession will tell you that quality… takes… time. Think on that for more than a second. After all, there’s ANOTHER cast or edition coming up shortly. The public will see it so, cool your jets, man!
What they really want.
By the time the consumer sees your “exclusive,” it will no longer be so damn exclusive—every other outlet will have it. Worrying about getting it FIRST is spinning your wheels and is truly an audience disservice focused more on your own promotion, instead of reporting.
News reporting. You know, journalism?
The average human being is suffering greatly from “Distraction Overload.” Distractions are everywhere, in every thing. DON’T be part of that pie. Be the REAL thing: information. You know, “news you can [actually] use.”
Sourced. Attributed. Accurate. Reliable. Facts.
And speaking of distraction, for Christ’s sake, get rid of screen graphics for the sake of graphics! LOSE THE CRAWL—and the countdowns to some meaningless event no one gives a flying fuck about (really, isn’t that the job of the promo production department?)! Just who convinced you to include these incomplete, misspelled and always out of date crawls: the Chyron company!?
I mean it, news management. STOP being morons! The audience is watching (with apologies to Tom Holman)!
I could just KILL media consultants who begin their sentences with “Research shows….” They are NOT journalists. They don’t know shit about news! They’re just marketing hacks and, quite frankly, they are trying to justify their existence and their paycheck. I once was told that consultants take your watch and then tell you what time it is!
Fellow newsers, YOU are a human being! Use YOUR humanity as your guide as to what is right and what is wrong. And stick to what YOU know is NEWS. Pass everything you write past your grandmother in your head, if you have to (worked for me!). But, toss out the thinking of people who couldn’t care less about integrity, responsibility, truth, fact and the accurate dissemination of verified information.
As a matter of fact, toss them out—of a window if no one is looking!
How to be a GOOD journalist.
My mentor, ABC’s Bill Beutel, once gave me the three rules of being a GOOD journalist (see my bio at “About the Author,” top of the page—after you’ve read this article!). Save your J-school tuition money, kids! Do these three things and you will ALWAYS succeed at being at the top of the news-food-chain (WRITE THESE DOWN!):
1. Get the FACTS.
2. UNDERSTAND the story, yourself.
3. Report ONLY the facts.
Sounds simple, I know. But, it’s harder than you may think at first!
“Getting the facts” requires a razor’s edge on paying attention. And paying really close attention is very difficult in practice, because you are surrounded by people trying to write their OWN story with YOU as their scribe. Don’t let them intimidate you or lead you astray or fill your head with worthless information that does not pertain to the story you came to get.
My teacher, Beutel, also the teacher of Peter Jennings of ABC’s “World News Tonight,” explained that even famous and well-seasoned journalists are often guilty of forgetting step TWO—understanding what the story is about, yourself—which can and WILL obfuscate the meaning of what is being reported!
Armed with the facts and the understanding of their meaning, you will have everything you need to be a journalist! The writing will almost take care of itself if you perfect steps one and two! And I’m not kidding. These rules I have used for my entire career—and they have always served me well. Reporting ONLY the facts is not only the RIGHT way to be a good journalist, it also builds credibility.
Credibility in you AND in your newsroom.
And that, my friends, is what the audience is craving. It’s especially important right now—and I guarantee, you will benefit from the dedication to these three axioms, ten-fold or more.
The Trump card.
“President Trump.” Damn, he’s nasty! And unpredictable. And a PRACTICED liar. Can we blame the television industry itself for creating this monster? MmmmmCOULD BE! No matter what else he is, I can tell you, he is not only a master of disaster, he is THE master of diversion and distraction.
He revels in throwing journalists off the trail of truth, in pushing his version of perception and actively confusing, on purpose, everyone around him—thinking he is either accomplished or entertaining. Neither is true for a President of the United States behaving in this manner.
Eventually, he may come to grips with this new promotion vehicle he has found for his businesses and realize he is an important part in our nation’s history.
But, don’t bet on it.
We are entering a frightening time where our “leader” would rather play to the crowd, his crowd, for popularity rather than consider the ramifications of his actions and the responsibilities of his office, to us and to the country. So, be vigilant. And let’s stay on him like STINK on SHIT, in the effort at least, to monitor his questionable decision-making and his motivations in making a country that is ALREADY great into something else.
So far, I personally don’t see anything he is doing that would remotely arrive at greatness.
He seems to be getting his jollys from wielding the tremendous power of U.S. weaponry. It tickles him to sidestep the Constitution and to disregard both tradition and law. Although life is NOT a television show, he doesn’t seem to know this! And, most likely, the rest of the world does not have a clue as to what a reality show is on American television.
For them, reality is a HELLUVA lot more difficult than gold plated toilets and limousines.
It’s bloody and it’s DEADLY.
To Trump, the world is his circus and he’s Ringmaster-in-Chief. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that SOMETIMES, the lions and tigers KILL their handlers. And the elephants’ rage occasionally reaches the CHILDREN in the audience.
Since he doesn’t have regard for our laws and our Constitution—because he believes everything is negotiable—the country and, maybe, the entire planet is in jeopardy. Journalists NEED to hold his feet to the fire and also need to avoid blinking; he’s just WAITING for that moment when we do.
And just a note to newbies and part-timers: DON’T listen to the people that tell you the news is being “controlled” by anyone ELSE. In truth, it’s YOU who controls the news, right there from your little cubicle! Yes, my young Padawan, I’ve been witness to THOUSANDS of important news stories originating from someone JUST. LIKE. YOU!
And, like all of us who are now a little gray (okay, really gray), we ALL started in YOUR chair. Go ahead, check it: I stuck a food truck sammich in your upholstery many years ago (yup, THAT is what you’ve been smelling all this time!).
With his feet to the fire, Trump’s HANDS are a different matter. With what I am seeing from reliable sources (NOT the Brian Stetler kind), they may be soon in handcuffs. Oh yeah, the curtain IS coming down on this reality show! ANY story along these lines are going to be a good GET. Trump’s time in office may be shorter than Nixon’s second term as a result.
Our real concern should be of him going nuclear—and not the Senate version of it—before he is hauled off to the gulag. If we’re lucky, everything will be okay. A 24//7 webcam in his cell would keep him on television.
And a Pay-Per-View special would be, most likely, very popular, at least with the minority of voters that made him the Chief Executive. My suggestion for the host? Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course!
Now, that’s television!
This is your brain on Trump!