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join the discussion: What do you make of the dramatic  changes occurring in the news business --  the pressures for profits in network news and newspapers, the new definition of what's news, the citizen journalism movement, the  impact  of the Internet?

newsprint

Dear FRONTLINE,

I can't help but add my small voice to those that have expressed dismay at the notion that we in Los Angeles should not look toward the Los Angeles Times for anything other than local news.

Despite all the turmoil at that paper, I've kept my subscription active, but only to support the reporters and editors who are attempting to do their best during trying times. Should the paper cease its international and national coverage, I would surely find no reason to continue to subscribe. There are many local papers--several of them free--that provide ample local and arts-related news coverage. Additional local coverage would, I'm sure be welcomed by most of us, but not at the expense of the other issues that we--like most other Americans--care about.

Candyce Kornblum
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I saw both your part I and part III series of 'News War.''

As a journalism student who graduated in 2000, it was a time when the Internet was really starting to take over. Yet, I always knew I wanted to write and I never really gave much thought at that time to the proliferation of Internet news and how it would affect journalism. I also didn't plan on ending up in the news industry, but now I am here and working as an editor/reporter/photographer (jack-of-all-trades) at a small weekly paper in rural southeast/central Ohio. I never got into writing because of the money, but because I love to write. and now, working in a small town, i see that (although often overlooked by mainstream press) even the smallest of papers can serve an integral public service. the stories in small communities are just as important to the relative population as the larger international or statewide stories are. (Who doesn't want to know what is going on in their backyard?) But even small papers face the same dilemmas as the larger ones financially-speaking, as they are being bought out by larger companies. and this 'bottom-line' way of thinking is becoming the iron fist that rules the roost.

Here at my paper, we are attempting to cover a county with a population of about 35,000 (we are the only paper in the county) and there is one full-time reporter. Me. People want more coverage, but what can we tell them? The company wants more ad dollars before they will give us another in-house reporter. there's more paper work for the publisher and we are gearing up to prepare a Web site. some out there are saying right now, 'WOW. These people are so out-of-touch. They don't have a Web site?' Well, yes, this paper is behind the times and with such limited staff, having a Web site now (although I think it will do us good) is like rubbing salt in the wound. Guess who is supposed to help keep this Web site updated? That's right... the editor/reporter/photographer, etc.... HOW, I ASK? We can't get more help until our ad revenue goes up..... So, this single reporter just keeps wishing and praying for increased ad revenue (and willing student interns), and in the meantime, am wondering what the heck students are learning now in journalism school... Not that it makes any difference is someone actually goes to school and STUDIES the craft of journalism, according to Jeff Jarvis.... I get so completely tired of people acting like writing is not a talent, or something some people are better at than others.

The "anyone-can-write-or-be-a-journalist" mentality is bothersome, because it implies, at its roots, that anyone who wants to be anything can be it by just saying so. Who would take their broken-down car to a person who occasionally likes to think they are a mechanic? Writing is the same as any other talent or ability -- some really are more gifted at it than others, and as another respondent commented, there are rules in journalism and methods, factchecking, discretion, etc. where is the future of the news headed? my goodness, sometimes it makes me cringe to even think about it.

Nikki Enright
New Lexington, Southeast/Central Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

Like other viewers, my jaw dropped when I heard Charles Bobrinskoy suggesting that the USA needs only three newspapers handling coverage of national and international stories. (I should say three and a half since I don't consider USA Today a real newspaper).

This is exactly what we feared would happen when we began allowing huge media mergers. We said it would lead to a monopoly of news. They said it would lead to higher quality product for a lower cost. Now we've heard it straight from the top. They intend for us to have only three view points on stories affecting every one of us, and the entire planet for that matter. While the rest of their empire is devoted to local trivia.

But that's just the beginning. Once we're down to three major news sources it is only a matter of time before they buy each other out, either actually or essentially, simply because the corporations are so entwined with each other that we don't know where one ends and the next begins. What will we have then? Two sources of information? Maybe one. We should all be very, very worried.

Greg McBrady
seattle, Washington

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for the News War series! I saw III last night and was so impressed I spent time today to view I and II on the web. Well done (series and web presentation). Looking forward to IV.

Thanks for helping articulate and reveal what's happening to the news, and media in the US. I think we (public) all know (or have some awareness) that something's very, very wrong - but we're so awash in shallow, bogus and meanigless information streams from our media, we're numb to reality and truth.

I can't watch CNN, or their ilk, or local TV news anymore without thinking they've (long ago) turned into a TV version of the Inquirer. I'm tired of news anchors that look like supermodels, laughing and joking one minute, and then reporting another bombing in Iraq the next. I fully expect to see CNN start reporting that Anna Nicole Smith's baby is really 'Bat Boy' and the father was an alien. And the country will believe it.

Personally I don't know who to trust anymore. I really don't.

If the Newspapers succumb - we're done. Locally, in Greeley CO - The Greeley Tribune has recently agreed to end a years-old practice of copying stories from competing newspapers and falsely labeling them as Associated Press dispatches! What? It's an outrage!

Clearly, treating the news as entertainment, and as a profit center, is irresponsible, and dangerous for our country and our future.

Thanks for the information - keep it up!

Fort Collins, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thanks for highlighting the facts.Fact: Newspapers lead true investigative, hard-core journalism in this country. With few exceptions the rest of us in broadcast and other media follow where their time-consuming and painstaking research leads us. Fact: There are three newspapers covering the war full-time on the ground in Iraq. (Deplorable. Frontline, extra thanks for highlighting this.)Fact: My husband had to peel me off the ceiling after I exploded off the couch as the female number cruncher smiled and shrugged at the camera. She said something to the effect that papers need to go hyper-local if they want to make money because "investigative journalism is just too expensive." "It's too expensive NOT to do investigative journalism!" I fumed.

Fair disclosure: I have a personal reason to be passionate about this issue. I was a reporter in a local TV newsroom; one of a handful of broadcast reporters in the country who, at the time, had serious experience reporting about religion, including Islam. I was laid off six weeks after 9-11. I was walked out with more than 100 other Belo employees nationwide. We were told it was cutbacks in newsrooms and stations because they weren't profitable enough in the wake of 9-11. Go figure: biggest attack on the country, we're about to go to war, time for layoffs in the newsroom. Makes perfect sense, no? I believe it's just another example that proves Frontline's point.

Thankfully, since the layoff, I have been in public radio. And ever since then I've been arguing that this country needs more non-profit news sources. Thanks Frontline for having such a smug number crunching Wall Streeter succinctly make my point for me.

Washington, DC

Dear FRONTLINE,

Well, I had to see it to believe it. It looks like the entire "News War" series will come and go without even mentioning the single largest and most important topic in modern American media: the abandonment of the mainstream media by entire swaths of the viewing public due to the media's enormous and growing liberal bias (and the rampant dishonesty that has accompanied it). What is next at PBS, at four part series about Iraq that does not even once mention the fact that a war is going on?

Santa Barbara, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I find it amusing to read the doomsday warnings about amateurs with picture phones who lack the judgement and context to decide what to report, as contrasted with the besuited men and women of midtown Manhattan who SHOULD be in charge, by golly.

Bottom line: the true "bias" in the news business is and has always been the rooted in the decision of what to cover -- not how to present it.

As long as the nearly unanimously liberal mainstream media continues to cover only one side of the news -- i.e., display the political bias and judgement of any random Berkeley sophomore with a Nokia -- it will continue to lose relevance and audience share.

The American people are smarter than Dan Rather thinks. They know that there are at least two political flavors out there. Telling us that chocolate is better, and that vanilla is somehow morally wrong, will simply no longer suffice.

Rey Smith
Paradise, Montana

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a Southern Californian, and 7-day a week subscriber to the LA Times, I was enraged to hear the Wall Street greed-establishment and their gray-faced lackey pronounce that I should not look to my local newspaper to learn what my country is doing in Iraq.

How dare they suggest that high school sports scores are of greater importance -- or interest -- to any citizen? Their condescension and arrogance ranks right up there with the Enron boyz. For a full account of why real journalism is critical to the survival of democracy in this country, I highly recommend Frank Rich's "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

Once again, FRONTLINE is the only source of real broadcast journalism in the US today. Thank you WGBH and PBS and 'viewers like you" for supporting this series.

Kiku Terasaki
Laguna Beach, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

What I found most interesting about part 3 of Frontline's NewsWar was the evolution of televised news. I understood long ago that news broadcasts were subsidized by other television shows broadcast throughout the day. News shows were meant to inform the public, not to entertain them. News was not meant to be a revenue stream. How times have changed.

NewsWar showed how televised news changed from an information broadcast to a commentary and sensationalized broadcast in order to garner a larger audience and higher ratings. It is not uncommon to see a news show compare themself with another network an how their show has a higher viewing audience. The "no spin zone" I hear time and time again is anything but that. Every news show, regardless of the network, is complete commentary and spin.

I had to laugh at the pretty blond girl who started out on the internet asking if the 6 o'clock news was worth watching and then see her end up working for the network news. That's the definition of a sell out if you ask me.

David Sanders
Phoenix, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

It was distressing to see Charles Bobrinskoy's comments about the LA Times in the Frontline interview. He employed straw men or ignorance -- I don't know which is worse. Examples:

1. Repeatedly acting as though an Istanbul bureau reports only on Istanbul. It is, in fact, the gateway to covering an entire portion of the world, including the Muslim world, a slightly important matter at the moment.

2. Claiming that three national newspapers are enough and that the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are two of them. The WSJ is a financial newspaper that occasionally does other stories. USA Today is a joke. Does he really think we can get full and accurate world and national news from a single source, meaning on any given story a single reporter, even if it is from the New York Times?

3. Pretending that Fox News is a legitimate news source; it is a collection of opinions and talking point memos from the right. CNN once was a news source, now it is an entertainment competitor of Fox.

Mr. Bobrinskoy may be a brilliant investment analyst. However, he makes the same mistake as many people who know money and, therefore, believe they know all businesses (see: sports team owners). News is not just, or even primarily, business. It is a public trust and vital to an informed electorate in a democracy. Given that, we should somehow swallow hard and accept 20% profits, regardless of the trend lines.

Those are not just platitudes, they are facts. And if Mr. Bobrinskoy truly thinks that one reporter in Iraq is enough when this is the vital issue of our time -- indeed, an issue that will certainly burden our descendants for decades and that has already led to the sacrifice of the nation's soul (see: torture, suspension of habeas corpus, etc.) -- then he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

I trust he will sell Ariel's newspaper stock to people who care about news and stick to just making money, apparently the only thing he understands and cares about. He most certainly does not care about the fate of the nation.

Terry Shepard
Baltimore, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was APPALLED by the coverage of the Los Angeles Times, and by what direction the Tribune wants to take the paper. I was watching the program with friends and we were all DISGUSTED by the fact that the owners want to take the paper into a "local" direction, and focus more on Hollywood and immigration.

There are local papers for most areas in Los Angeles. There are 2 or 3 newspapers that cover local happenings in Santa Monica alone. Most neighborhoods have a small circulation papers. More power to them. I don't pay .50 to read about small community news. I pay .50 to read credible international news coverage.

The sad truth is that most Los Angelinos don't read the Times for information on Hollywood. If you want the real Hollywood scoop, you read Variety, Entertainment Weekly, or simply turn on the television and watch local stations KCAL 9, KTLA 5, FOX 11, etc.

The few people I know who read the Los Angeles Times do so for coverage of the war from a West Coast point of view, and for in depth, not watered down, coverage of international news and events. This is quite hard to ascertain this information from television, as most coverage is more in an editorial vein than a hard news perspective.

I hate to admit this, but I cancelled my subscription to the Los Angeles Times last year after I learned of lay offs and outsourcing by the paper. I could not, with good conscience, continue to pay for a paper that has lost its integrity. I really, really hope that one day Mr. Broad or the Chandlers can get their paper back so I can start reading my beloved Times again. For now, I have to settle for reading CNN.com for international and national news and the Santa Monica Press for local and California coverage.

Truly, what a shame.

Holly James
Los Angeles, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was raised in a small town and a typical day for gathering news was to [1] read the local small-town newspaper each morning that covered local, state, national and international news in small tidbits, [2] watch the 6:00pm news for local and state news, and [3] watch the 6:30pm network (Chet and Dave, mainly) for National and international news.

Now, I sadly report, that I read the local paper for local and state news; rely on various internet sites for National and international news, particularly BBC News for World news. I no longer watch either local or network evening news. The three major network news reports are no interest to me because [1] it is information that is too old and [2] I do not trust them to tell the truth. The networks are obviously using sensational journalism to improve ratings and therefore, increase ad revenues. They are entertainment, not news, and are now paying "newscasters" in that manner. They select stories and report them from a point of view that improves ratings. They do not report the news.

Your reports have suggested newspapers are on the same track - creating news for profit, not necessarily for content. I hope you are wrong and newspapers do not go the same route as network news. We do need good journalism, with integrity, in our country. A few major newspapers and wire services are the only thing we have remaining.

Ben Arney
Maineville, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

After watching this third episode with its discussion of what is driving both TV and print "journalism" in today's world, I am reminded of one of those "ah hah!" moments that came to me many years ago and of which I have written more than once.

I worked for many years inside the corporate headquarters of a Fortune 500 company with the enviable position of being able to deal with just about everyone in it and many of those who came in from our field locations. From that vantage point, I had the opportunity to hear and see many things, perhaps the most important of which was how american businesses were changing during the 80s and 90s first hand.

As the "old guard" of CEOs, COOs, etc. reached their maturity and then passed on their responsibilities to the next generation, there was an apparent shift in attitude and focus from valuing the company for the products it produced and its service to the greater good of the marketplace it served, to one for which increasing profitability and a mantra of "increasing shareholder value" overtook why a company made the widgets they made or served the consumer in some increasingly better way. Yes, there were attempts to initiate programs such as Total Quality Management (our company struggled for a while to embrace it) and other such programs in the late 80s, but the focus (at least at many companies like ours) was controlled by a paradigm that valued TQ for what it could do to improve the bottom line much more than what it could do to make it a better and more responsive and responsible company. The sense of mission, or mission statement had much more to do with its own survival and profitability than something larger and outside of itself and its shareholders.

After having observed the changes going on within our company (and elsewhere, via the news media), something happened to me one day, coming to me from seemingly out of nowhere. I had been rummaging through piles of old magazines one weekend and in them I had noted some of the advertising for various large companies and what they had to say about themselves and what they did. I had grown up with these and one had stuck in my mind, General Electric's motto that "Progress is our most important product." A noble statement, appealing to higher sense of mission than simply making money. However, while sitting at my desk one afternoon a few days later, it came to me that one could probably distill the difference between the mindset that produced that motto if they simply transformed it into a statement of our general sense of mission today, something like: "Profit is our most important progress."

That may seem excessively cynical, but I think not. That steadily increasing profitability has become the focus of both shareholders demanding ever increasing profitability and CEOs and CFOs canibalizing and selling off companies to ensure yet another quarterly profit, is, as rightly noted in the program, one of the most dangerous undercurrents to the health of all companies, including the news media. Once the news media began to be seen as profit centers, the view of their responsibilities to something of greater human and societal importance also began to wane among those who now held the purse strings and made the decisions of what was most important to a much smaller group than the general public. Informing the public became decidedly secondary to improving the balance sheet and the annual report.

I worry that a mentality which chooses not to engage itself in something larger and more important than itself (Progress, informing the public on issues, etc), but would rather retreat into the smaller and perhaps more narcissistic confines of a security dictated by money, has corroded our values and is in the process of corroding the civilization which we think has a life of its own.

Bob Muenchausen
Boise, Idaho

Dear FRONTLINE,

Two things.

1) I feel it is important to point out places where people in these comments are being dishonest or mistaken. This self-policing is a crucial element of online politics, whether journalistic or opinion-oriented. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

Peter Lawton is blinkered by some part of his ideology into saying many false things. Was the NYT over-eager in printing the Risen story about wiretapping? That might be an opinion, and I suppose he's entitled to it, but it's got to be wrong: the Times sat on that completed story for at least THIRTEEN MONTHS based on the White House's OWN word that the President's program was not against the law. It has now been acceded by everyone from Alberto Gonzales down through Congress (who updated the law to try to reconcile it with what the President had done) that he did indeed fail to comply with the law (specifically, FISA). Moreover, he did so under an entirely novel and radical theory of executive power that only a handful of lawyers will even try to defend. And under what possible theory of journalism can it be NOT NEWS when the Executive Branch breaks a law duly passed by the Legislative? That's like the definition of news.

In his mention of the Koran-flushing case (ironically just a few phrases away from his praise of himself as a fact-checker), Mr. Lawton gets the story entirely wrong. First of all, it was Newsweek, not Time; secondly, that story was entirely VINDICATED many months later and turned out to have been true in every particular. No one but Newsweek had an interest in pointing out that the furious White House attacks against it, calling it a libel, had themselves been lies.

Nadja's claim above that Lincoln pursued sedition trials against journalists is a libel. Who but the uninformed is she trying to persuade? It's just not true, and she makes no effort to back it up. Lincoln's posture on this matters in every regard is the opposite of that of the current administration; the exceptions are minor and were approved by Congress. This is junior-high rumor-mongering, and should be responded to by the Editors (who clearly read these things and defend themSELVES but cannot be bothered to defend Lincoln).

The unnamed clown from Santa Barbara above is an even worse offender. Why should the press have determined that Plame was not covert and that this was a non-story given that experts on every side of the question, from CIA to US Attorneys to the WHITE HOUSE ITSELF said she was? Yes, indeed, the White House stated that if the leaker of this covert agent's name were caught, that person would no longer work for the White House. NO ONE seriously maintained that she was not covert until it became convenient for people to do so in relatively unmonitored fora like this one.Secondly, no, it is not the case that Wilson's report validated the claim that Iraq had any prospect of buying uranium from Niger. That's just false, false, false. And Bush's formulation in the SOTU was not only misleading (if technically true, in the sense that saying "My Defense Secretary told me I should tell you that Iran has the bomb" might be true technically), but had also been REPEATEDLY discredited and scrubbed from speeches by the CIA. It was there to present falsehood in the guise of fact.

These are the kind of dishonesties that creep into Internet publications. It is a cooperative effort to beat them back. Editors must do their part. I demand as a start that Nadja's claim about Lincoln be retracted unless it can be supported.

2) I am dismayed by the hostile tone taken by the the interviewer in the transcript of the Joshua Micah Marshall interview. In any industry but journalism, it is impossible to imagine a reporter asking "Who will pay for the old stuff now that you, with your innovations, are sapping money away from the new stuff?" This invocation of the market as some kind of moral authority that should call into question the blogging enterprise is laughable, especially in light of the interviewer's earlier futile effort to call into question Marshall's own highly successful (and relatively incorruptible) business model -- and of the fact that the interview itself is done under the auspices of PUBLIC TELEVISION. Who will pay for it? Well, who do you think SHOULD pay for it? Can the fact that bloggers threaten traditional media be taken as INTRINSICALLY a point against them? Only a fool would do so directly, but in this weaselly manner the interviewer sets out to insinuate such arguments over and over.

Marshall's fierce intelligence, patience, and deftness makes this a highly informative interview. But I am appalled that his interviewer thought it was the point of the exercise to poke holes in the bases of Marshall's work. Factual undermining of administration agendas is "propaganda"? It's merely "embarrassing" and petty to ask politicians how they voted? It's "partisan" to choose NOT to do updates on economic recovery and low unemployment? That's just insane.

Frontline is not immune from the defensiveness that comes across the countenance of every well-established news institution when the flow of information online becomes the topic. On the other hand, the ineptitude, unreflectiveness, and corruption with which information flows otherwise makes this story more important than any other in the democracy's current parlous moment -- and I applaud Frontline for addressing the matter so directly.

Jim von der Heydt
Exeter, NH

Dear FRONTLINE,

I have a question: A while back, I walked by the State House in Boston and saw a guy holding a sign that said "Stop Abusing Human Being From Satellite."

I took a picture of him.

Now is he the journalist for holding the sign, or am I the journalist for telling you about it?

I'm really confused.

Craig Fitzgerald
Shaftsbury, Vermont

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posted feb. 13, 2007

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