Increasing number of reporters confirm the existence of and openly embrace agendas

Via the USA Today:

The “social journalism” that made Oprah Winfrey an international fairy godmother is the new rage in network and cable news, and it’s expanding to other media.

Increasingly, journalists and talk-show hosts want to “own” a niche issue or problem, find ways to solve it and be associated with making this world a better place, as Winfrey has done with obesity, literacy and, most recently, education by founding a girls school in South Africa.

Experts say the competitive landscape, the need to be different and to keep eyeballs returning, is driving this trend, along with a genuine desire from some anchors and reporters to do good.

In the process, some are becoming famous. And they’re allowing news organizations to break away from the pack, as old and new media fight for viewers and readers, says Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

“News outlets have found they can create more momentum and more identity by creating franchise brands around issues or around a point of view,” he says.


But elsewhere in the media, especially in cable and network news, there are attempts to be distinctive while at the same time continuing beat and general assignment reporting, the backbone of any news outlet.

For example, as weatherman at WABC in New York for 18 years, Sam Champion did what he calls “a friendly version of weather.”

But in his new role as weather anchor of ABC News, Champion reports extensively on the effects of global warming and severe weather on Good Morning America, Nightline and World News Tonight, a unique beat in broadcast news.

“We want to do weather that matters, to be informative and expand the topic to help people better understand the climate,” says Champion, who unveiled GMA’s “weather center” last week.

At Fox News, anchor Bill O’Reilly pushes the cause of justice for child sex victims, and he campaigns for Jessica’s Law, which would sentence child predators to 25 years to life in prison.


At NBC, Today news anchor Ann Curry has carved out a niche as a humanitarian reporter for her segments on starvation in Darfur, a region of the Sudan she has visited twice since March 2006.

“Does it mean something to me that people know about Darfur because of our efforts? Absolutely,” Curry says. “The more you do of this work, the more you realize what needs to be done. Our job is to give voice to people who have no voice. I think we’ve forgotten that in recent years.”


Says NBC’s Curry: “It’s not always easy to be directed in this profession, which can be a profession of very sharp elbows. But my motives are pure. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m not afraid to say that out loud.”

As I wrote in my comment to Allah’s post about it, it’s refreshing to see them finally admitting it, but one of my biggest issues with the piece is that it blurs the line between straight reporting and opinion reporting. Bill O’Reilly is not a ‘reporter’ – he’s an opinionated talk show host so he’s supposed to have an agenda. On the other hand, Ann Curry isn’t.

That said, these people are confirming in their own way what the right has said about the media all along. Instead of reporting objectively, they try to determine from the outset of a story which ‘side’ is ‘good’ and then shape their stories around making the other side of the story ‘bad.’ This isn’t such an issue when you’re talking about a story on a child molester because everyone wants to see him/her locked up, but it becomes a big issue when we’re talking about stories on things like stem cell research and the war in Iraq, where the reporter’s ‘side’ comes through in some cases very clearly (their march against confrontation with Iran is a classic example, IMO). I think in those cases reporters need to make even more of an effort to report ‘from the middle’ but these days, that’s just asking too much.

Reporters don’t get into the news business simply to report the news anymore. They want to shape it – and in some cases, create news. And that’s a problem.


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