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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Are Journalists Being Trained Not to be Journalists?

Until the recent economic downturn, news organizations would put their journalists through training in writing, editing and ethics. Broadcast organizations would spend time and money helping their on-air staff perfect their delivery through writing, coaching and performance training.

ABC News was known as exemplary in this, with reporters who weren't out on assignment, constantly practicing how to do "live" reports in the event of another major story, such as 9/11.

Now, much of that training money has been reduced. Many news organizations have even cut training completely out of budgets. One of the reasons for this was that journalism schools will fill in the training gaps. And to a certain extent, they do. But journalism schools can't replicate the unique cultures that exist independently in every news organization.

This is not a new phenomenon. Training budgets were often the first to be eliminated or redirected even during the so-called "good" times.

A recent conversation with a senior CBC News TV reporter has given me new cause for concern: a senior manager told her that full reports are "a waste of time and money." Audiences, it seems can be attracted by, and are more interested in "hits" - or delivering information straight to camera, without the benefit of an edited report.

Indeed, she informed me, reporters at the CBC are now known as "hitters" when they are assigned to provide those elements into the news programs. More and more reporters are expected to be "hitters" more than once a day. Fully crafted and edited reports for radio and television may soon be a thing of the past.

Equally troubling is the word that ex-CBC journalists (who now either teach or devote themselves full time to training) have been told that "Old CBC" people are no longer wanted or needed as trainers. Instead, trainers who have had absolutely no experience or exposure to public broadcasting are preferred.

The assumption here is that the CBC wants to move away from traditional broadcast journalism and into the new world of "hits." To use a Biblical simile, management in its God-like wisdom seems to regard journalists akin to the Children of Israel wandering in the desert, and that the old "Moses" generation of journalists must die out to allow the new "Joshua" generation (of "hitters?") to enter into the (multimedia) Promised Land.

If true, this is disturbing and discouraging. There may be financial reasons for doing this: reporting is more costly and more time consuming, compared to delivering "hits." Good journalism can be expensive and these days, in terms of delivering an audience, it's just not efficient.

But how this can serve the need to be informed more as engaged and informed citizens rather than just as passive and compliant media consumers? Poorer journalism makes people more susceptible to the lies and innuendo of talk radio hucksters and cable news bloviators.

The effects of an ill-informed citizenry are readily available for viewing these days.


  1. I agree with your premise, Jeff, with one caveat. Although it's true for radio, and to a certain extent for so-called "new media", I don't think one can sustain the argument that live hits *for television* are cheaper than packaged reports. There's a lot of technical overhead involved in doing a live hit for TV, especially if the event is far enough off the beaten path that microwave or satellite are the only options.

    ... which leads us to a problem that's been raised elsewhere in the blogosphere: media outlets relying on someone else's visuals, and just adding a voice track and perhaps a live top 'n' tail, done fifty feet from where the anchor is sitting. I actually don't have a huge problem with that, on the condition that it's clearly explained that the station/network wasn't able to send a crew to the event in question.

  2. True, but it means that CBC News becomes an aggregator rather than a gatherer. That means we are leaving the essential editorial choices to others. Is that what we want? Need?

    In my experience, the audience will go where the information is most reliable. And it should.