Saturday, January 9, 2021

R.I.P Journalism, 2021

 In 1974 (yes, I’m that old) I walked into my first Journalism class at the University of Connecticut. The bell rang and a middle-aged, white haired gentleman entered the class, moved to the front of the room and looked up. “I’m Evan Hill and welcome to Journalism. Check your opinions at the door.” The man who would become my favorite teacher of all time was a by-the-book journalist who taught us the importance of being fair, objective and unbiased.

At one point we were assigned to write a profile and I ended up with the University’s first female Trustee. I handed in my profile and watched as Mister Hill went through it at his desk, red pen poised to strike. Suddenly he shook his head and the pen slashed through a sentence.

“What’d I do?” I asked.

“There’s an opinion in your story.” He turned the page around and showed me the offending sentence.

I’d referred to the woman as an attractive brunette dressed in a tailored business suit with a single strand of pearls. “I don’t understand. How is that an opinion?”

“You called her attractive.”

“Well, I mean, she’s not a fashion model or anything but she’s a nice looking woman.”

“In whose opinion? Yours? Maybe someone else thinks she’s ugly.”

Sure, that was an extreme example, but he taught me something which made me very careful to keep even the slightest opinions out of my stories.

During my career as a television reporter I probably did more than three thousand stories. And I don’t think any viewer had a clue as to how I voted. In fact, the opinionated stuff you see today on TV would have gotten me fired in a heartbeat.

But then things changed as I saw my first blatant example of media bias in 2004. I was working in New York, and the country was in the middle of a presidential election. During the morning meeting when stories are assigned people were discussing a story in the New York Post about a major Democratic presidential candidate who allegedly had a mistress. People were speculating if the mistress was real, when from the back of the room an intern spoke up. “She’s my roommate in college. He calls our room all the time.”

Jaws dropped, conversation stopped. Suddenly every reporter turned to her and started asking questions. And every reporter wanted this story.

Until the person in charge spoke up. “We’re not doing this story.”

A veteran reporter who was head of the union was furious, arguing that this was a major national story. And this being a union shop in New York, just about everyone who worked there was pretty liberal and a Democrat. The manager wouldn’t budge. “Nobody cares about that stuff anymore.” What followed was the biggest newsroom argument I’ve ever witnessed, with liberals fighting for the story that would surely take down a Democrat. These were real, old-school, objective reporters. But the story was killed and never saw the air. Thankfully, the candidate did not become president.

Same TV station, a few months later. We’re airing sound bites from a George W. Bush speech and all of a sudden I hear a scream in the middle of it. Then it happens again. And again. I assumed the control room simply had two tapes playing at the same time or there was a hot microphone somewhere. But a later look at the tape showed someone had actually edited the infamous John Dean scream into the sound bite. A little detective work found the culprit. Was he fired? Suspended? Fined? Nope. Same manager. Rules didn’t apply in that station if you made a Republican look bad.

In 2005 I started working as a freelance producer for all the major networks. And I started to notice something. When I worked for NBC, people assumed I was liberal. When I worked for Fox, they thought I was conservative.

I see 2008 as the year journalism began a death spiral as the media love-fest for Obama was in full bloom. Planted questions in the White House press room, more softballs than a beer league, and a ridiculous query from a reporter who asked the President what had most “enchanted” him about being President. I think if the President had come to a sudden stop, some of these reporters would have broken noses.

But the past four years have left no doubt that journalism is dead. Suppression of news, known as “bias by omission” in which you simply don’t cover stories you don’t like (see: New York, 2004), along with what is now known as “opinion journalism” (which is an oxymoron) have left the media with no credibility. The often laughable coverage of the “peaceful protests” in 2020, the prime example bring a reporter in front of a burning building saying things were mostly peaceful, showed how the networks are not even trying to hide their bias any longer. The double standard evident this week during the incident at the Capitol. Looting, destruction of businesses, burning buildings, destroying monuments, billions in damage, police officers killed or injured… that’s okay. A bunch of people storming the capitol… and yes, people died… but they made it seem like it was worse than 9/11 or the day JFK was shot. Once anchor said, “We will get through this.” ABC actually used the term “cleansing the movement” in reference to Trump supporters. If you don’t know your history as it refers to cleansing, look up Nazi Germany.

So, rest in peace, journalism, and it appears free speech is circling the drain as well with big tech banning anything they don’t like. Trump is now banned from Twitter. The Ayatollah still enjoys his account.

The big problem is that “news” is no longer about information but affirmation; meaning you will watch or read things with which you agree.

The bigger problem is social media, which has done nothing but divide us. The internet is Skynet, terminators not needed to destroy society. We have met the enemy and it is us.

Of course now the media will call for unity, after referring to half the country for four years as racists, homophobes, Nazis, Klan members, and everything you can think of. And now they expect everyone to hold hands and sing Kumbaya? As we say in New York, I got your unity right here.

I feel very sad that the business I loved is playing a key role in the destruction of this country. People often ask me, “What do I watch or read? How do I know what the truth is anymore?” Sorry, I have no answer. But if you read both sides, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Look, don’t let anyone, especially a reporter or anchor, tell you what to think. Most people have enough common sense to understand that the fringe groups of both parties are not the norm. The guy with the Republican yard sign who lives next door does not attend Klan rallies. The person across the street with a Democratic sign does not go looting on weekends. But the media would have you believe you need to hate the person who thinks differently than you do.

There’s an old saying. Tell a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth. But that’s  changed.

Tell a lie often enough, and it now becomes journalism.

Monday, January 6, 2020


Okay, I'm back. Kinda sorta.

I've updated my Street Smarts book for the new decade, which also includes the original text. Since so much has changed in the business and ethics seemed to go out the window at the network level, I thought it was time.

Anyway, available on Amazon today and everywhere else shortly. Any questions fire away.

Meanwhile, I'll drop in from time to time.

Broadcast Journalism Street Smarts: 20/20 Vision for 2020 and Beyond

Monday, August 26, 2013

There's no crying in news; or, why rookies need to grow a backbone and become a Vulcan

(In this scene the News Director has just chastised his rookie reporter for nothing in particular since he loves keeping the upper hand. As expected, the tears begin to flow, pleasing the ND to no end.)

ND: Are you... crying?"
Reporter: (Trying in vain to hold back tears) No. No.
ND: Are those.... tears?
Reporter: No.
ND: There's no crying in news! Did Walter Cronkite cry? No! Did Edward R. Murrow cry? Nooooo! Because there's no crying in news!

Unfortunately, these days there seems to be a lot of crying in news. This year I've had more phone calls from reporters in tears than ever before. For whatever reason, managers seem to take perverse pleasure in ripping their new employees, when they should be doing just the opposite. While a News Director doesn't need to treat rookies like the bubblewrapped kids we often see in this country, he doesn't need to make the new kid walk on eggshells.

Let's face it, some NDs really get off on the power trip, and that's why many of them are stuck in small markets or working for lousy companies. But we've covered that ground before.

So it's time to channel your inner Vulcan. You must become Mister Spock, and check your emotions at the door.

You must grow a backbone. I'm not telling you to be insubordinate, but until you show managers that they can't get under your skin, they'll keep hammering you. You must keep in mind that it is simply management manipulation to make you feel less confident about your abilities, and therefore, less confident when it comes to job hunting.

But this isn't about them, it's about you.

Learn to sort constructive criticism from the comments that are simply mean spirited. Always consider the source of the comment. Just because someone carries a title of ND or Executive Producer doesn't make that person an authority on anything. There are hordes of crash test dummies working in positions of power.

Grow the backbone. Be the Vulcan and don't show your emotions. Raise your shields. As soon as you brush off nasty comments, they'll stop. The best defense is to be cheerful right after you've gotten hammered. Go back to the newsroom, tell a joke, laugh. Let them know they're not pushing your buttons.

Live long and prosper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Jedi Mind Tricks: Due to cutbacks, the old "good cop, bad cop" tactic is now performed by one person

Stop me if you've heard this before on a date:

"You're really attractive, have a great personality, and I've enjoyed spending time with you. I'm sure you'll make someone a wonderful husband/wife."


Yes, that's the old "good cop, bad cop" dating version. You build the person up before dumping them to soften the blow, sort of like offering a condemned prisoner anything for a last meal before throwing the switch on the electric chair and frying said prisoner.

Back in the day the newsroom version of this was a skill set employed by the News Director and either his Assistant or the Executive Producer. Whoever was playing the good cop would build you up, usually just before a contract negotiation, and then the other would drop the hammer. Or, the bad cop character would lay the groundwork for a lousy offer by repeatedly focusing on your shortcomings, so when the good cop came by with an offer you were glad to sign.

Alas, lots of stations have done away with some of these positions, so the ND gets to play a dual role, and we're not talkin' Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday.

Depending on the News Director, you can get one of two scripts. The ND can lead off with the good cop, but the end result will be an offer you're not too pleased with. Or he can start with the bad cop, which results in a lousy offer that you'll be thrilled to accept.

Scenario Number One: "You've done some really great work here the past few years, and you're a valuable member of the team. I know I can always count on you to go the extra mile, you're a positive influence on the newsroom and I'd really like you to stay. We've got some long term plans for you if you can make a commitment."

(At this point you're pumped, smiling, sitting up straight, and waiting for the offer that will change your lifestyle. You're already picking out the color for your new car. Now stand by for the "but" part of this script.)

"But.... as you know the economy is not great and we've had to tighten our belt. (ND shifts in chair as he realizes he's sitting on the keys to his Mercedes.) I really wish I could offer you a lot more since you are soooooo valuable to the newsroom. Anyway, I hope you'll consider this offer as it's the absolute best we can do." (ND has fingers crossed behind his back, and the words "go to confession" are written on his desk calendar for Saturday.)

At this point the ND hands you a contract which is as convoluted as the health care bill. You quickly scan it for numbers and see that the proposed increase in pay will allow you to buy the ramen noodles with the little shrimp instead of the plain ones.

Scenario Number Two: "Well, I know this job has been a struggle for you and I appreciate the effort. I was hoping you would have made more progress at this point, and every time you seem to be taking your work to the next level you do something that makes me wonder if your head's in the game. It's basically two steps forward, two steps back with you."

At this point you're beginning to break out in a cold sweat. Uh-oh, I'd better get more resume tapes out. When is my last day here? How long can I pay my rent before I have to pack up and move into Mom's basement? And just when you've heard enough from the bad cop to make you think you're outta here, the good cop gallops in on a white horse and hands you a contract. Surprise!

"But, I still believe in your potential and would like to see you fulfill that potential. So we've decided to offer you an extension. Of course, I'll expect you to work harder to avoid all those little things that have been setting you back."

You exhale your tension as you flip through the contract, searching for those numbers. There they are! A three year deal with no outs! And a salary increase that will allow you to buy an extra soda each week from the break room vending machine! Sweet! And a few minutes ago you thought you were out the door. Whew, what a relief! Gimme a pen, where do I sign?

You must be aware that in any contract negotiation, mind games will be played. Also keep in mind that the first offer is almost always the lowest one because part of a News Director's job is staying under budget. There's almost always room for polite negotiation, and I must emphasize the word polite. Play hardball and take a firm tone, and the bad cop could escort you out the door.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I'm going on semi-hiatus...

If you've been a regular visitor here for the past few years you may have noticed the posts have not been as frequent of late. Some of this is due to a two week vacation in June, but most of it is because of a very big change in my career.

I've been writing novels for the past few years, and I've mentioned this a few times here. Well, a while ago I was offered a three-book deal by HarperCollins, known as one of the "Big Six" publishers. This is the kind of thing authors dream about... getting a major publisher to believe in your work and promote it. While television news has been my career, writing has always been my passion.

The key here is "three-book deal" which means I have to devote much more time to writing fiction... and a little less time here.

This does not mean I'm going to stop posting. There are still plenty of things you guys need to know, the industry is always changing, and I keep hearing of new Jedi Mind Tricks being played on unsuspecting journalists by those ne'er-do-wells in management. So though the posts will be less frequent, they'll still be there. Since I'm a quality vs. quantity guy anyway, this makes sense.

Besides, there are seven years worth of posts that you can read (the current count is 1,320) so there's plenty of useful information if you care to wander through the archives.

If you're a client, fear not, as I'll still take care of you and give you as much time and help as you need. Absolutely nothing will change.

If you send an email with a question, it might take a little longer to answer it.

As for my fiction, the first book is scheduled for release in August, and I hope you'll support it by either picking up a copy, telling your friends, or both.

In the meantime know that I'll still be looking out for you guys. Hell, somebody has to.

Meanwhile, here's my new author blog if you'd like to check it out...