As TV news crews begin returning from Haiti, it's time to think a little about the coverage we witnessed.
And I've got a modest proposal for journalists who feel the need to help out while covering the next major disaster: Feel free to help, but turn the camera off and put the notepads down.
In today's super-cynical times, viewers are all too aware of the power that comes from having a news anchor shown helping rescue a person in peril or advocating aggressively for increased aid during an emergency. The work of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and NBC anchor Brian Williams during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a signature moment.
But others have learned from that example. And now, as the crisis in Haiti continues its merciless grip on that country, every network sent its own reporters-turned-relief workers: newly hired Good Morning America news reader Juju Chang; NBC medical correspondent Nancy Snyderman; and CNN's Sanjay Gupta, all providing medical assistance while reporting on the tragedy.
The problem? Too much of this looked like stagecraft; a heart-warming display ready for endless re-airing and submission to awards committees.
Snyderman resisted that idea, telling CNN host Howard Kurtz, "Tell me if you would walk by somebody who has a bone sticking out of his arm."
Still, officials at the Society of Professional Journalists, the closest thing news hounds have to a professional standards board, warned journalists against becoming part of the stories they are covering, because it might damage their ability to report facts.
Network TV news analyst Andrew Tyndall noted that engineering, infrastructure and civil safety issues are most pressing now. But too much coverage of correspondents helping people one-on-one drags the focus there, while keeping medical correspondents from seeing the big picture.
Since no one wants to tell another human to ignore suffering, I say journalists should help as much as they can — and then decline to report on any of it.
This does two things: It forces journalists to think a bit before they jump into a situation, because they will be taking time from their primary job. It also removes any appearance of self-interest, because no one outside the disaster zone will even know what they did.
I know it's easy for me to sit in an air-conditioned office in Florida and suggest such things, while others are risking their lives to tell the story of Haiti's suffering.
But when it gets to the point that every TV network sends a doctor/reporter to a disaster to help — and what source wouldn't pour out information to a doctor who helped save their life? — perhaps it is time to encourage journalists to be clearer about their roles.
Leno takes no blame for late-night debacle
Moments after Oprah Winfrey aired her highly touted interview with returning Tonight Show host Jay Leno on Thursday, Twitter began piling up the negative comments.
Fans mostly couldn't believe she let Leno insist the late-night war was all NBC and Conan O'Brien's fault (NBC for insisting on disastrous changes, including his 10 p.m. show; O'Brien for getting bad ratings after taking over the Tonight Show). So I've got a few questions the Queen of All Media should have asked:
1 No one believes you or NBC seriously thought Conan would accept moving the Tonight Show back to 12:05 p.m. Would YOU have accepted that deal if you were him?
2 You say Conan was replaced because he didn't get good ratings. Don't you think your show's low ratings at 10 p.m. helped decimate Conan's ratings at 11:35 p.m.?
3 You got two years to build up viewership and beat David Letterman. Shouldn't NBC have let you go and given Conan more time to succeed?
4 You say it would have been selfish to retire and leave your staff jobless. But didn't you put Conan's staff out of work by taking back the Tonight Show?
5 I think the public is upset because you're not taking any responsibility for how this turned out. Shouldn't you take some blame?