Mark Grimm

 

Trump and Journalism’s Death Spiral


Mainstream American network and print journalism is in a death spiral (First though, this caveat. Journalism is a thousand voices and each voice should be judged individually on its merits). That said, come on people. How can anyone watch the nightly network news, or CNN or read the NY Times and not concede they have declared war on President Donald Trump.

They have reason to be defensive. Trump has launched an all-out assault on their credibility. But their response — to wage a battle to the death attempting to destroy him — makes them even less credible. They should answer President Trump the old fashion way, by being as fair and objective as possible (even if they can’t stand the guy). That is the only way they will restore their tattered credibility.

CNN reporter Jake Tapper looked into the camera and told the president to “stop whining” and get to work. The NY Times printed an opinion piece with a headline questioning if Trump was “a threat to democracy.” Yes, Mr. Trump’s biting personality is unprecedented in the Internet age, but so too is the media coverage. It’s never the media’s job to get back at anyone. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Let’s be clear, I’ve never been blind to the President’s flaws. The adolescent side of Mr. Trump, who spent his first full day in office complaining about crowd size estimates, or spent a week feuding with the parents of a dead war hero, has added a match to the burning hatred that consumes his critics. They have the right to protest from now to doomsday if they wish. But the press should not be part of the chorus. My own local newspaper actually did an editorial asking duly elected Trump delegates not to vote for him.

Media managers used to hide behind the “we have reporting and we have opinion pieces” defense. That line has been obliterated. Reporters routinely opine on the very stories they cover. Many major media outlets have now decided to cater to the audiences that agree with them. For example, imagine the difference in viewership between Fox News and MSNBC. News networks and major papers have become opinion news more than journalism. Mr. Trump has accelerated this death spiral but he did not start it.

Journalism has morphed into something else. The profession’s declining credibility could not have come at a worse time for it. In the 21st century, people are increasingly getting their news from each other, often from friends they agree with on most issues. The truth is nearly every network and every major newspaper has an agenda and none of them is truly objective (C-Span remains a rare exception).

There’s a silver lining. There are still many people in journalism who remain dedicated to the pursuit of the truth. I’ve worked with many of them. They must operate in this difficult environment. It is up to us to get our news from as many sources as possible and reward the ones that do the best job at being fair and objective. We can provide this badly-needed incentive. They are the ones that must survive.

Mark Grimm is a former TV news anchor/reporter, media professor and radio host who runs a public communication business.

TV News Insights Not Found in a Book: Hoppel Profile

Albany TV news journalist with media insights

WNYT-TV13 News Director Eric Hoppel

Longtime Albany TV news man WNYT-TV13 News Director Eric Hoppel says, “I never know what my day will be like.” It’s an appealing feature of a job that comes with ongoing challenges — increased competition, lower profit margins, tough budget scrutiny and playing the role of psychologist for employees.

Hoppel rose to his position as a leading voice in upstate NY journalism the old fashioned way, he earned it. He started in glamorous Altoona, PA as a weekend TV news producer, working 14-hour days while getting paid minimum wage for eight.

News is “what interests or affects people,” he told a College of St. Rose media class. While we “all cover the same big stories,” Hoppel says his department tries to distinguish itself by trying to tell why a story is important, adding special segments like Athlete of the Week and 13 Kids Who Care and maintaining an experienced staff that has deep community roots.

Is there room for all the local news stations to survive in the Albany TV market? “I don’t know” is his candid answer. The new realities are that you will see more one-man bands (a single person performing as reporter, videographer and editor). Hoppel says he’s learned to be creative about how to cover the things you really want to cover but don’t have the budget to do it the way you might have had in the past.

His advice for young job seekers, “If you want a job in TV news, be a producer.” They are the most in demand, according to Hoppel, a former producer himself. Whatever your chosen field, “there will always be a need for good communicators and good writers.” Some of my students smiled at that, they’ve heard that a few dozen times from their professor.

What jazzes the boss the most? When we do a story about a person and he or she calls to say, “Thanks, that helped me.” Hoppel added, “I also love it when we do a good story no one else has.”

The passion still lives. You can’t survive the business without it.

The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and adjunct media professor. He helps clients with media strategy and training.