Amused to death

I was lucky enough to have good teachers when I was learning this trade. Fred Friendly, a towering figure in broadcast news, once told the story of how he decided to quit CBS News after President Lyndon Johnson pressed him not to air an unflattering report on the Vietnam War. Journalist Sofianos Chrysostomides, who worked at the Avgi and Eleftherotypia dailies, used to mark my drafts with a red pen and note: «And how do we know that?» Ta Nea editor Leon Karapanayiotis never tired of pointing out: «What you are saying is an opinion. But is it also news?» I also had a fourth teacher who was never a big fan of reporting but who believed that when you marry leftist culture with common sense you can achieve great things. I would love to have all four of them watch an evening news bulletin or a so-called investigative program today. I would let them observe for a while before asking them, «What is it that you have just seen?» I would give them three choices: First, a proper news bulletin or news program. Second, a 1970s-style satire. Third, a group psychotherapy session for TV prima donnas suffering from Napoleonic syndrome. I fear they would not choose the first option because it would run against their bedrock principles. Meaning that editorializing is one thing, while reporting is quite another; that information must always be cross-checked; and that you cannot spend 45 minutes on a single story. I can’t say exactly where my generation went wrong. Some of us may have made a lot of money but our impact on the public conscience is waning. The famous educator and media critic Neil Postman once said that television can «amuse us to death.» But people are not amused or upset by what they hear but rather with those of us who announce the news. They know we are playing roles on a show that must air every night.

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