Sunday, July 11, 2010

Where's the Professionalism?

Idle Hands

Just because we have the Internet, just because we have blogs, just because we have opinions, just because we have cameras, just because we have YouTube, just because we have creativity, just because there may have been one too many beers, just because of all of these things and more, journalists—true journalists don’t do goofy satire on the side and keep their jobs in the real world.

Three Arkansas TV news employees (Market size 56) were canned last week after producing an idiotic and vulgar piece posted on YouTube apparently intended to be satire. The news director did the right thing: He fired them all, one of them one over the telephone because he was on vacation in Dallas.

Yes, there has been a sea-change in mass communications. The Internet enables me and others to post their opinions unimpeded. It has enabled ordinary citizens to have an equal voice more than ever before. That’s good. It’s good as long as it exists inside of the boundaries of our communications laws like putting somebody in a false light, libel, and slander.

When people working in the profession of journalism (I believe journalism is a profession.) set aside the tenants and ethics of their calling, they cease to be acting as professionals. All three saw their careers pass before their eyes.

They must have missed a class sometime in college. They must not have had “hard core” mentors and supervisors. They may not have what it takes deep down to be a real “main stream” journalist. Maybe they’ll learn it now, and maybe it won’t be too late to salvage their young careers.

So many college kids come into internships and even the job market saying that they want to be anchors. They have pretty faces, good hair, and serviceable voices. The fit the stereotype of Don Henley’s song “Dirty Laundry”: “I could have been an actor, but I wound up here.” So, without an anchor, they are anchormen and anchorwomen wannabees. Worse, they be actual anchors on the air.

The viewers deserve more than that. It doesn’t matter whether they’re working in a top ten market, 48, 56, or 200. All of the viewers, users, consumers of news and public affairs deserve professionalism, no matter the market size.

Austinites are fortunate here in the 48th market, that for the most part our mainstream media, both broadcast and print, are staffed with professionals. More importantly, the news departments are run by news managers and editors who demand professionalism.

What troubles me still is that scores of experienced and seasoned professional journalists have moved to other fields, retired, or moved on. The management remains solidly in place, but there are a lot of young people working in their second and third jobs on the air in print in Austin main stream media.

Part of this is the phenomenon of baby boomers being bought out or simply hanging it up. Others moved out of journalism into public information. How many familiar faces do you see fronting politicians and other offices? I’ve written about this before, that Austin is a destination for journalists. Many don’t leave Austin. They just leave “the business”.

Austin viewers, readers, consumers, and users of information from the mainstream media also deserve more. Yeah, this is being written on Saturday, July 10, 2010 when some might say nothing much was going on, but at 6 O’clock what one station delivered to my TV after the “Aquapolooza” was yesterday’s news from the newspaper and a BP retread from the network news on the air just minutes before. Don’t give me this crap that there was nothing going on. I worked weekends for a lot of years.

Where does the Austin American-Statesman get most of its weekend stories? They aren’t “breaking news”. Reporters are researching them for publication on the weekend. So, why oh why can’t today’s TV stations get staff members who are just sitting around during the week to dig up something for the weekend new casts? And don’t give me this crap about not having a photographer; if you have a story, you’ll get a photographer. Nowadays, you may be shooting it yourself!

It’s laziness and a lack of creativity with a purpose. The old saw may be true: “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” So, vapid reporters and photographers sitting around waiting for the next house fire or bank robbery may be okay now. At least that’s better than goofing around producing some tasteless piece for YouTube. Geez.

© Jim McNabb, 2010


Anonymous said...

Amen, Jim. As always, you nailed it. Lazy is as lazy does. And it's got nothing to do with the economy.

The Inanity Defense said...

Jim, I agree with your theoretical points, but the practicality of getting someone in today's pared-down newsrooms to do an evergreen piece for the weekend is nil.

Though I've observed my fair share of lazy staffers, in reality many times the most productive are researching the (ever-constant) sweeps' pieces in addition to their normal (increasing) workload.

Until that changes, the weekend shows will remain a wasteland of press-release-driven "news ops," crime and/or accident videos, and sports recaps.