Great documentary! However I think there is too much finger pointing at the media and news outlets. Don't worry, I don't work at one. One thing the film is leaving out is the dumbing down of the American public. If the American people in general demanded good, objective, quality news, someone would deliver it.
People watch "The Daily Show" not because the news is just as good, they watch because it is not news, it's a comedy show. We live in a culture now that feels it must be entertained at all times. Few take the time to inform themselves and it's considered OK by most to be incredibly ignorant. This is the root of the problem. The news is just pandering to this. Of course they share a big chunk of the blame but the problem lies with an incredibly uninformed public caring more about Anna Nicole Smith than a bombing in Najaf.
San Marcos, TX
Thank you for a wonderful exposé of the current trends in journalism and the news business. Although the information age and the attendant technology has forever altered the landscape for this enterprise, it is the insatiable greed of Wall Street that has created the long-term damage to journalism, just as it has damaged every other aspect of American life. If we cannot get that bull under control, it is going to irreversibly damage the the country---uncontrolled greed destroying sustainable greed---if it has not done so already.
Keep the pressure on.
Salt Lake City, Utah
Where are the women? As a previous poster noted, out of more than 50 interviews, only a handful were of women, and only two (Dana Priest and Judith Miller) were actual journalists (one with no control over broad news decisions, the other with little remaining credibility). Maybe this is part of the newspaper problem. Can an industry being run almost completely by people of the same demographic (middle aged and older white men) have a broad appeal? I think the results speak for themselves.
Los Angeles, CA
FRONTLINE's editors respond:
We asked Raney Aronson-Rath, the producer, director and writer of the first two programs in this four-part series, to address this question. Here is her response: "When we embarked upon the challenge of producing these films, we made an editorial decision to interview, as much as possible, the players and architects of this history -- those who could tell us first-person accounts of the stories we were presenting, rather than rely heavily on experts and other journalists. What this meant was that we had little choice about whom we talked to. The main players for the series' first hour on the Valerie Plame affair and the history of reporter's privilege were, for the most part, men. Other than Judith Miller, the lawyers who fought her case and the executive editor at The New York Times and the other players - from James Goodale to Brad Reynolds, who argued against the reporters before the Supreme Court - all happened to be men. The same was true when we covered the First Amendment confrontations between the administration and The New York Times and The Washington Post. The executive editors of both papers were men and the reporters who broke the national security stories were men, with the exception of Dana Priest. As a female producer I found it unsettling, to say the least, that so many of the interviews we did were with men and that so many of the positions of power in the media industry we covered were held by men. But it was the reality that we faced. I did try to include other voices, such as Lucy Daglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, to help with the situation. But it couldn't make up for the fact most of the central figures in this media world we were in, were men."
How can Frontline talk of the press for this phony 5 year war like its a surprise to us after 3 decades of a never debated drugwar going on and on with ALL the predicted negative results and nothing positve which doesn't make a story...... dispite the cost.
This is a fascinating series, especially Part III. I think the interesting part about newspapers is that the actual paper which people buy is extremely cumbersome. It is bad product in that the paper is very unwieldy and hard to manipulate.
The internet makes searching, indexing, and reading much more convenient, however readers can ignore the advertising with programs. The only way to guarantee ad-views is to limit the readers' freedom. This causes resentment, especially among younger readers. At a certain point this diminishes your product and loses readers. For examples, pop ups and flashing/distracting ads.
People understand that news organizations need ad revenue, yet there is a fine line between accepting a necessary "evil" that is tastefully integrated into the website (often times the worst ads that flash/blink are also the most effective).
I believe a successful model is one in which the newspaper asks readers to voluntarily click a link and look at ads. Supporters will take the five seconds to do this. We notice this from charity websites where clicking a link helps prevent starvation in Africa.
One further point is that advertising must somehow be integrated into the viewing experience and provide more information. I am fine looking at advertising that interests me, I may even find it helpful and enjoyable, but do not make me look at advertising that I do not care about. This is also beneficial because it allows newspapers to highly target their ads and charge higher prices.
Good-I hope the LA Times goes out of business. They refuse to investigate one of the most corrupt institutions in America, the Los Angeles Unified School District. Here are some articles re: LAUSD. Note, none of them come from the LA Times.
UTLA, local TV News and Newspaper articles: Challenging The “Culture of Reprisal, Principals’ Union attacks First Amendment rights, A safety crisis in LAUSD?, Fight grows against toxic LAUSD schools, UTLA sues District over payroll problems, Daily News’ January 22, 2006: Saga of Royromer.com Cyber War Ends with $360,000 Payoff by LAUSD Daily Breeze’s April 21, 2007: Audit rips LAUSD management, August 25th, 2007 Ch 11 Fox News: LAUSD Teacher Transferred by District, CBS News David Goldstein Reports LAUSD Debit Card Scandal, Daily News’ Dec. 17, 2007: LAUSD Payroll Cheats Students, Enriches “Experts” and LAWeekly’s Dec. 26th, 2007: How Superintendent David Brewer Ran Aground.
John Adams LAUSD Teacher
Los Angeles, California
Congratulations on another great series. "Anyone with a laptop" would be hard-pressed to make 5 minutes of such high-quality taping, editing and reporting.
I am a programmer and I know there's a difference between any joe writing Excel formulas and actual programming. The two are related in the same way that blogging and real journalism are related: one does not substitute the other. If anything, the advent of democratized programming via excel functions frees up programmers to work on more interesting things.
Maybe professional news organizations could benefit from the blogging boom. Supervised (edited, franchised or federated) blogging could be used as an accessible platform for new reporters to earn their stripes. "Cat in the tree", entertainment "news" and other soft or moderately interesting stories could be relegated to blogs exclusively.
To me, the most frightening phenomenon is the rise of the info-snack. I would even call it info-crack. Corporations have fed the beast in the never-ending quest for higher profits. The only antidote I can see is public television and radio. Unfortunately, the PBS demographic is not as broad as Fox network's.
I'm a teacher for disable kids , but I was inspired by your piece about journalism and democracy and the interview with Josh Wolf. This is the first time I contact PBS because I feel the this subject is imperative for the American people to know. I witnessed several injustices performed by well off cityzens and Law Enforcement. I will go on detail about it on my blogs. visit me at myspace.com/darediego1967 for links.Again , the job that you do trying to catch the big fish is very important bloggers and journalists like yourselves should work together. Thank you for your work!
As real journalism goes, so goes real democratic society.
Last night's piece was incredibly, sadly informative, and proved something I think most socially aware Americans have known for years: That an agressively investigative press with a mission to inform the public no longer exists in this country. I belong to what your reporter would call the "Daily Show" demographic, mainly because the information you get from Jon Stewart and co. is closer to quality real news than what the networks are giving people.
Instead of blaming bloggers and citizen journalists for making them increasingly obsolete however, the major news corps. should look closer to home. The decline is nobody's fault but the newspapers themselves and the greed of their owners. When you have news agencies beholden to stockholders, the "news" we recieve will of course be managed. And with an ill-informed population being fed celebrity gossip as if it's news of world importance, is it any wonder that the current administration can get away with the abuses it has?
No discussion of citizen journalism can be considered complete without mention of the incredible volunteer work of countless activist journalists worldwide who have contributed to the Independent Media network since 1999.
Contributors to these websites have documented thousands of protests and other progressive activities across the globe this decade. These all-volunteer websites pre-date blogs, Youtube, and the plethora of hype around citizen journalism and Web2.0. In fact, in may ways IMCs were the model for the more recent comers. The IMCs have empowered citizens to create their own media for some time and have done it all without any corporate or government backing whatsoever.
There are over a hundred groups in this network. If you want to see the first-hand activist take on protests anywhere in the world, go to http://www.indymedia.org/ and look in the bottom of the left-hand column for the full list of websites. If you want to see activist photos from the anti-Bush demos in Brazil yesterday or today, go to the CMI Brasil IMC website. You want to see pics during the upcoming anti-G8 protests in June 2007, visit the Germany website this summer. You want to see the first posts of Josh Wolf and others from the anti-G8 demo in San Francisco in 2005, check out the SF Bay Area Indymedia website.
Having had a short-lived "career" (if I could even call it that) in journalism in the Netherlands, I now heavily depend on the internet for the provision of news from home, either through the press agencies or through regular email. Also, in American mainstream newsmedia I missed the indepth coverage of international and even domestic US issues I was accustomed to reading about. I literally suffered from news being presented through the prism of entertainment values and ended up received no hard news at all, were it not for access to the internet.
Interestingly, the third part of the documentary ended up with the issue as I have discovered almost everything in US society ends up with: money matters. I see this as the deeper charge and greatest challenge to the newsmedia, not only in this country, but all over the world, brought to us through this outstanding documentary series. The question this raises for me is this: Are we as a culture and a civilisation going to allow consumerism to strike even within the single most unique feature of humanity, what separates us from the animal kingdom, namely our intellectual heritage, development and future? If we do so, we will really give ourselves over to consumerism in its most literal meaning: "devourment."
I believe with Cornel West that in order to continue the democratic experiment and maintain integrity in our human endeavors, we need to pay closer attention to democracy matters than money matters.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Your program hit the nail on the head. I'm 30 years old and receive all of my news from the internet, even the New York Times. As a matter of fact I watched this program via the internet.
I thought it was amusing when Mr. Bergman asked John Carroll about the 20% profit margins and then, rather than asking Mr. Carroll (or one of the financial people interviewed) why such a large profit margin gives such a small return on assets, he gives one of those studied expressions of impressed surprise that would be more in place on the host of "To Catch a Predator" than on "FrontLine".
It takes only a rudimentary knowledge of finance to knowthat profit margin is nearly useless when comparing profitability across industries. Industries with low asset turn over ratiosneed much higher profit margins than industries with high assetturn over ratios.
This is no trivial complaint. Later in the story, Eli Broad is shown saying that his group would be happy with a 5-9% "return". In order to understand what he meant, it is critically importantto know if that is a 5-9% profit margin ratio, or if he meanta 5-9% return on equity or (return on assets, or return on investment.) He is not asked to clarify this, leaving the viewer none the wiser.
I think journalists would have more credibility if they spentmore time reading "Accounting for Dummies" than practicingtheatrical facial expressions.
San Diego, Ca
CENTRIST - That's how I would describe the analysis. Where was the progressive side? Why wasn't FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), Amy Goodman or Noam Chomsky/Ed Herman whose book, _Manufacturing Consent_, offers a comprehensive analysis part of the documentary? There were views expressed critical of the corporate media, but only from the conservative perspective.
There was no discussion of the fact that the NY Times sat on the domestic spying program of Bush's until the election was past. Bush owes the NY times a big favor. Yet, from this documentary, one is left thinking, some how, the NY Times has been adversarial only. How about Christine Amanpour's admission that the mainstream media practiced self-censorship in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq? It's not a matter of shifting structures- TV to Web dissemination that is responsible for a majority of Americans thinking Saddam Hussein was personally responsible for the attack on the World Trade Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
It's a lack of will and corporate mind-set of obedience and ideological blinders that should be a major focus of Frontline.
New York, NY
I think Frontline is one of--if not the best--documentary news program on television today. I look forward to every new episode, for I know that it will be thoroughly researched, even-handed, and skillfully executed. As an instructor at the University of California, Riverside, I try to instill in my own students the need to research and investigate social phenomena, and Frontline is a prime model for investigative journalism that is in the best interest of the public trust not Wall Street.
Although there are numerous additional reasons to support PBS, Frontline is reason in and of itself. It is absolutely essential that the Frontline team continue to provide meaningful and insightful information to a public thirsty for it. Blogs, Yahoo, Google, or even prime time news programs cannot do what you do. Great work!
Moreno Valley, California