I keep watching the debates, and heck throwing up questions to encourage debates about the swearing anchor who got fired right after his first night. Many brought up the fact that EVERYONE knows (or should know) to assume a mic is always hot. Some say management essentially set him up. Many thought it was wrong that he ended up being essentially celebrated on the morning show circuit. At the heart of all of these debates is a simple, yet crucial quality all journalists must possess to do their jobs: Credibility.
As a rule of thumb, I try not to throw up a strong opinion about the industry much on survivetvnewsjobs. Frankly, who am I to say much, right? I’m just another longtime journalist who worked hard and had a mostly rewarding career in the biz. BUT, when I do editorialize it is consistently about one issue: Credibility.
I could go off on the fact that each time a new anchor debuts on-air, stations should require run throughs to prevent confusion and calm nerves. I could go off on the producer and/or director for not personally counting down the brand new anchor coming out of each commercial break so he would not get confused. Or I could go off on the anchor for not assuming the mic is always hot, even when he walks down the hall after the flipping newscast. (By the way, reading scripts and adding pronouncers so you can get through tough names ahead of time is very helpful) I could also go off on the industry as a whole for continuing to give very inexperienced journalists, roles that are simply too big, do it too quickly and with no training to get them up to speed. The sink or swim mentality has always been a part of TV news that begs for this kind of scenario. That’s why I constantly write articles about training issues.
But my focus in this article is this: How many industry leaders, from local news to network, are flippant about mistakes. I get “Live with Kelly and Michael” throwing this guy on TV. It’s a pure entertainment show. But the anchors on the Today show appealing to people to give him a second chance? Despite Today leaning more toward infotainment, many still consider it a news program. What does that say for their anchors’ credibility? It’s crazy, but not surprising. After all a CNN internal note and spokesperson’s statement hit the web essentially stating “So what if we screwed up on huge facts during the Boston marathon bombing. It’s ok because we then corrected the gaffes within the hour, so it was an excellent job.” In another memo, the AP reminds its staff about it’s one source policy. (Get another source too and really verify first source’s credibility) How about industry analysts using the same excuse: Consumers have a “responsibility” to know the information they are being given may be unverified when following Twitter and online websites. I get that this meant to include an average joe’s blog or twitter feed, BUT it’s too cavalier an attitude about news people online. How many stories has your station or network aired obliterating a doctor, company or law enforcement office for serious mistakes that resulted from lack of training or resources? Do we accept cheap excuses from them when we cover their mistakes?
So let’s get to the core of the importance of credibility. Everyone from the swearing anchor, on his first day, to the high powered execs at CNN and AP needs to understand that the entire industry’s future is on the line. It is an honor and a privilege to report news. This is not a reality TV show. Communities depend on the information. And they depend on it being right. If you want to be a star, go to hollywood or your local theater. You impact people’s daily lives in crucial ways. When will this industry openly admit this behavior is shameful? It is against everything a journalist is supposed to stand for. Make fun of that all you want, (many of you will) but I know a lot of journalists who still believe in the institution. Show pride, join them. Networks: Could you set the standard again? Is that really asking too much? Let’s start with this: Have two credible sources verify information before you run it? Is that really so hard to do even during breaking news? Is that really such a novel concept that you have to send out a memo saying it needs to start happening again? If a journalist tweets supposed “facts” without verifying information and running it past a manager, there should be discipline. Make it crystal clear that the errors will not be tolerated. Is that really so hard? It shouldn’t be.
I would love to know why the swearing anchor went into news. Does he feel a sense of social responsibility? I am calling him out because he seems to be eating up the publicity and seems unconcerned about the potential ramifications for the business he represents. I felt a little bad for him until he hit the talk show circuit. Now, he’s opened himself up for analysis and critique. I have also invited him to join our community and support network so he can grow with us, if he is a dedicated journalist.
Now I ask you: Is it better if he just wants to be on TV? Will he thrive more, because so many higher ups obviously view the biz as a type of entertainment or at least something you just throw on the air and hope it works?
If you believe being a TV journalist is a calling, please do every other like minded person a favor, post this in your newsroom somewhere. Then take a picture of the article hanging on the wall and post it to the survivetvnewsjobs Facebook page. Let’s show some pride for the “calling” that being a journalist really is for many of you. Who actually has the guts to demand that the entire newsroom, believe in themselves and expect more? Make a call demanding credibility. This industry depends on it!
FYI, Beth Johnson, the founder of Survivetvnewsjobs wrote this article.