On the heels of the resignation of editor Bari Weiss at The New York Times recently over how news and opinion is selected and presented to its readers, comes another very public resignation that’s making waves. This time of an MSNBC producer who explained her decision in an open letter on her blog.
Ariana Pekary, who worked as a producer on MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Larry O’Donnell,” says in her blog that she has been wrestling with this decision for a couple years.
“July 24th was my last day at MSNBC,” she wrote. “I don’t know what I’m going to do next exactly but I simply couldn’t stay there anymore. My colleagues are very smart people with good intentions. The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”
Pekary emphasizes that hers is not simply a complaint about the editorial decisions at MSNBC, which leans heavily left in its reporting and commentary. She indicts the entire cable and television news industry.
“You may not watch MSNBC but just know that this problem still affects you, too,” Pekary said. “All the commercial networks function the same – and no doubt that content seeps into your social media feed, one way or the other.
“It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to the editorial process due to my background in public radio, where no decision I ever witnessed was predicated on how a topic or guest would ‘rate.’ The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked into the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day. Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
“But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.
“‘We are a cancer and there is no cure,’ a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. ‘But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.’”
It’s all about ratings and advertising revenue, Pekary says, perhaps to no one’s surprise.
“Occasionally, the producers will choose to do a topic or story without regard for how they think it will rate, but that is the exception, not the rule. Due to the simple structure of the industry – the desire to charge more money for commercials, as well as the ratings bonuses that top-tier decision-makers earn – they always relapse into their old profitable programming habits.”
The news isn’t about facts and issues, she says, but more like comfort food.
“I understand that the journalistic process is largely subjective and any group of individuals may justify a different set of priorities on any given day. Therefore, it’s particularly notable to me, for one, that nearly every rundown at the network basically is the same, hour after hour. And two, they use this subjective nature of the news to justify economically beneficial decisions. I’ve even heard producers deny their role as journalists. A very capable senior producer once said: ‘Our viewers don’t really consider us the news. They come to us for comfort.’”
Pekary thinks there’s a better way to do the news, and she wants to start a conversation about that. Anyone who watches the news will largely agree with her.
Photo from Anton Garin / Shutterstock.com
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