Mar
18
1999

Media Scenes We'd Like To See In 1999

Spring is often a time of renewed hopes and fresh dreams. So, let's visualize some media breakthroughs — however unlikely — for the last seasons of this century.

In the spirit of Mad Magazine's old feature "Scenes We'd Like to See," here's a new version for American media.

FLUFF TV CORRESPONDENT RECANTS CAREER

"The Monica Lewinsky interview that I did on `20/20' was a sexploitive bridge too far," Barbara Walters declared in a statement released by ABC News.

"We tried to dress it up as some kind of historic inquiry," Walters added. "But weeks later, I realized that the whole thing was just smarmy pandering to satisfy the network's unquenchable thirst for ratings and ad revenue."

NEWSPAPER EDITORS URGE PARITY FOR BUSINESS, LABOR

At its 1999 convention, the American Society of Newspaper Editors voted overwhelmingly to urge dailies across the country to probe America's workplace realities on an ongoing basis.

"At last, we've come to understand that workers create all wealth," said a top ASNE official. "In the future, we'll supplement our coverage of business by devoting equal ink to information about working conditions, on-the-job hazards, pay equity issues, labor rights and other prevalent concerns of the American workforce."

CALIFORNIA DAILY ISSUES FORMAL APOLOGY TO OUSTED JOURNALIST

In an unprecedented action, San Jose Mercury News executives sought forgiveness from a former staff reporter whose 1996 "Dark Alliance" series explored links between the CIA- backed Nicaraguan Contra army and cocaine trafficking that helped to spread "crack" in urban areas of the United States during the 1980s.

"Frankly, we panicked," said a spokesperson for Knight-Ridder, the newspaper chain that owns the Mercury News. "The most powerful daily papers in the nation kept attacking the series, and our reputation was on the line. Looking back, we wish that we'd remained intrepid. Gary Webb's series wasn't perfect, but overall it was fine journalism — and more solid than many articles the press routinely publishes that are based on leaks from anonymous sources in Washington."

NOBEL COVERAGE LESS THAN NOBLE, BLUE-RIBBON PANEL CONCLUDES

A committee of distinguished American journalists, examining media coverage of Nobel Peace Prize recipients, concluded that U.S. news outlets have given short shrift to certain winners of the coveted prize.

"When the winner has been a foe of regimes with cordial ties to Washington, the U.S. news media provided little sustained attention," the panel said. It cited such Nobel Peace Prize winners as human rights activists Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina (who received the award in 1980), Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala (1992) and two men — Jose Ramos-Horta and Catholic Bishop Carlos Ximenes Belo — prominent in the continuing struggle against Indonesia's bloody quarter-century occupation of East Timor (1996).

"If U.S. policy-makers are enthusiastic about the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in a given year, the chances are that the Washington press corps will be too," the committee noted. "But if the White House is ambivalent or lukewarm, then media coverage is likely to be tepid and fleeting."

TOP NEWSMAGAZINES RENOUNCE OVER-RELIANCE ON ADVERTISERS

Editors at America's two leading news weeklies are now repudiating a trend that they spearheaded in recent years: single-advertiser editions.

After putting out special editions with only one advertiser — such as AT&T and IBM — Time went a step further with a regular weekly issue dated Jan. 11, 1999, devoted largely to "The Future of Medicine," when the Pfizer drug firm purchased all 38 pages of ads. Two months later, Newsweek printed more than 4 million copies of a special edition — "Health for Life: What Every Woman Needs to Know," scheduled to remain on newsstands until late spring — with 24 pages of ads from a single advertiser, Johnson & Johnson.

But suddenly, the editors of both magazines are denouncing the practice as a corruption of journalism. "We ran out of rationales," the Time and Newsweek editors said. "We got tired of sliding down the slippery slope of advertising-driven content. What became especially troubling was the realization that `special editions' on many important subjects are never going to be published because no big advertiser is available to kick in big bucks for them. If we lose our jobs for speaking out, then so be it."

Well, those are a few media scenes we'd like to see.

And now, back to the so-called real world.