Five of the University of Wisconsin’s most prominent alumni in journalism addressed growing technological and ethical changes to television news media at a panel discussion Wednesday evening.
The five-person panel, which included employees at CBS News, ABC News, the Poynter Institute and the Fox News Channel, tackled many of the issues currently facing major media outlets.
Chris Bury, an ABC News correspondent based in Chicago, said many young journalists are eager and well-equipped to dive into the journalism industry’s currently volatile landscape because of their impressive language and multimedia skills.
“At ABC, for example, we are hiring these kids – armies of one – they’re armed basically with a laptop and a cheap camera, and we have them in places like Mumbai and Delhi and Nairobi,” Bury said. “And they’re young, and they’re eager … and occasionally, if there’s a big story, they’re going to get on the air.”
Many of the panelists cautioned, however, that news outlets should know where to draw the line between citizen journalists and eager young reporters.
Jeff Greenfield, a senior political correspondent for CBS News, said the prominence of major news organizations has faded since the introduction of services like satellite television and the Internet, creating a more decentralized ‘gating’ structure for news.
Because of this, he said, story-making power has shifted.
“There are no gates now,” Greenfield said. “If the New York Times doesn’t want to cover something, it doesn’t matter.”
CBS News Chief Travel Correspondent Peter Greenberg said many news organizations have begun to face the reality they must adapt to the instant flow of information that has caused many major news organizations to close both foreign and domestic bureaus.
Greenberg said instead of placing reporters or “stringers” in cities to anticipate a major news event, news outlets now wait for something to break online and then send a reporter.
“My salary at Newsweek was 20 dollars a month, and my job was to stay here until a 727 hit Lake Mendota and then call the Chicago bureau,” Greenberg said. “But there are now no bureaus to speak of in terms of a comparative number anymore … and so now what we’re practicing, for lack of a better term, is parachute journalism.”
The panel also discussed the partisan tilt of some media organizations like Fox News, MSNBC and National Public Radio, all of which Greenfield said either leaned to the right or left of center.
David Tabacoff, currently a senior executive producer for Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, said many attacks on his news organization were baseless.
One questioner accused Tabacoff and Fox News of irresponsible journalism for showing footage of a violent protest in a warm climate with palm trees during a discussion about this winter’s union protests at the Capitol.
“That was a [O'Reilly] Factor piece of video that was run over a series of discussions regarding trouble in a number of areas. I just think that [the accusations] are a cheap shot,” Tabacoff said. “Every shot in Wisconsin was labeled as Wisconsin.”
Correction: A previous version of this article quoted Tabacoff saying “That was a fact error piece of video that was run over a series of discussions regarding trouble in a number of areas.” The quote has been corrected to replace the words “fact error” with “Factor.” We regret the error.