Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Katie Leaves Today -- Finally

I'm not sure if it was the 20 people wearing t-shirts thanking her for saving their lives. Or maybe the adoring shots of her parents watching as Martina McBride sang an ode to women everywhere. Or Ann Curry pretending she's not pissed off and passed over.

Whatever it was, NBC's three-hour sendoff this morning for Today show co-host Katie Couric -- Did you hear she's going to anchor evenings at CBS in September? -- brought to mind that old Country & Western tune: How Can We Miss You, If You Won't Ever Leave?

At least, we'll get a brief break from Katie-mania as the titan of morning TV takes off June to prepare for succeding dan Rather as the face of CBS News.

In case you missed the paper today, I prepared my own tribute to Her Perkiness, balanced by columnist Sue Carlton's much better-written and more respectful tribute. And in case this morning's lovefest wasn't enough, here's a link to NBC's online shrine to its departing icon and her farewell speeches.

I know the Katie hype has been unbearable -- a traveling colleague even called me this morning from Arkansas to insist I denounce the shameless feteing -- but such displays are to be expected for the woman who upgraded the female role on morning TV shows and logged a marathon 15 years on that timeslot's highest-rated program. (also, according to the New York Daily News, the network sold 25 percent of its ad space for today's show at double the usual rate -- $110,000 per 30-second spot)

See ya later Katie. Here's hoping you ignore all of us and make folks care about the evening news again.

Walking the Walk on Journalism Ethics

From the moment I met Post Register executive editor Dean Miller at a get-together for ethics fellows at the Poynter Institute, I knew this was a guy with a sharp ethical sense and energy to bring that to his news report.

But I was still impressed after perusing the Newsroom Ethics Web page he created for the Idaho Falls paper, which walks the walk on accountability and ethics in a way few newspapers manage -- even as the internet forced mroe accountability than manistream journalists have ever faced.

There's a simple reason why big journalism institutions find it so hard to be transparent about sticky ethical situations: It gives power to the public, which expects consistency, fairness and accountability in such decisions.

That's why it's so remarkable that Miller has offered such a comprehensive site, including a list of stories affected by their ethical codes, a list of ethical conflicts disclosed by staffers and a list of the newspaper's transgressions -- including his own attempts to pass along story ideas on a school district race he had recused himself from handling because his wife was one of the candidates (according to the Web site, his fellow editors told him providing the story ideas was inappropriate, regardless of their quality).

Miller even advises complaining readers to contact another news outlet if they fail to sufficiently address a complaint!

Newspaper veterans know Miller is letting himself in for a deluge of nonsense from cranks who will never be satisfied with the paper's coverage. But he's also setting a standard for disclosure and transparency that is groundbreaking for its candor and aggression.

I just hope he's rewarded with the appreciation from readers that he deserves.

Net Neutrality Debate Distorted to no One's Surprise

I wrote a little while ago about the little-known issue of net neutrality -- the idea that telecom companies may be forced by law to treat every Internet company using its pipeline the same regardless of financial or political ties.

If conducted honestly, it's a heck of a debate: do you leave the Internet unregulated and let big telecom companies cut huge deals to give faster access to companies which pay them bucketloads of money? Or do you preserve the level playing field for small fry online providers by forcing regulation on a largely-unregulated space?

Unfortunately, there are groups who are not interested in an honest debate, attempting to confuse consumers by only tellnig part o the story. One ofthese groups is Hands Off the Internet, a group with a grass-roots sounding moniker which is founded and funded by AT&T, BellSouth, Cingular wireless, Alcatel and many other companies which stand to make loads if Congress doesn't act on Net Neutrality legislation.

The group has TV ads telling consumers Net Neutrality will force consumers to pay for the next generation of the Internet. As if the telecom companies behind Hands Off the Internet won't spread the cost of whatever they spend on improving their Internet infrastructure to their customers -- while also charing a premium for the fastest access.

It's a dishonest con playing off the fact that most consumers still have no idea what Net Neutrality means. Too bad these guys couldn't find a more truthful way to safeguard their bottom line.


  • At 2:42 PM, May 31, 2006, formerly mr anonymous said…

    you cant possibly be gunning for a job in idaho, so i'll take your praise for that paper's 'ethics' code at face value.

    the problem: there is no industry-wide code that everyone follows, so not only is the public confused but so are journos who increasingly, it seems, are not sure where to step.

    in a business full of eccentrics with power and big egos, one wonders if any sort of uniformity will ever be achieved before newsprint goes the way of the dodo bird.

    on an interesting sidenote, a nyt staffer has an acute take on 'corrections' today on romenesko. his points are quite congent, i.e., papers are crammed with mistakes, inaccuracies, deliberate falsehoods, distortions etc daily. it's just that too often corrections come about only because someone is aggrieved in a hard-hitting story. fluffy, unnoted, gaffes are widespread.

    that's another reason why 'ethics' codes crafted from place to place are quaint but really nothing more.

  • At 3:02 PM, May 31, 2006, Eric Deggans said…

    You wrote: "You can't possibly be gunning for a job in idaho, so i'll take your praise for that paper's 'ethics' code at face value."

    Wow. Such cynicism. If I wasn't careful, i would assume you are already a journalist -- the only people i've met besides cops and firefighters who maintain such levels of snark.

    Anyways, mainstream media are the biggest, juiciest targets around. It's very easy to point out our worst failings, because we often either highlight them ourselves or have them highlighted eagerly by competitors.

    But to suggest that ethics codes don't matter for news outlets is just wrong. They matter, mostly because newsrooms are packed with people trying to figure out how to do the right thing every day in their work.

    And as tempting as it is to assume that such effort brings no result, the true answer is that it does brings results -- but, unfortunately, not as quickly and completely as we all would like.


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