A serious failure of journalism

A serious failure of journalism.

I don't know how smartmobby this is, but I know it's important. A research team led by John McManus at Stanford University watched every story in the most watched evening newscasts of the four most popular SF Bay Area stations and confirmed what everybody knows: informing people about what they need to know to remain free citizens of a democracy is no longer on the agenda of mainstream electronic journalism. The NBC, ABC, and CBS affiliates devoted an average of one minute or less on the most watched evening newscasts to the candidates' positions and merits of ballot measures — three weeks and one week before the last election. McManus, who directs Grade The News went to the heart of the matter in an Op-Ed piece for the San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 2004. Mcmanus noted that “Unlike newspapers, television stations are licensed to use public property — the airwaves — in return for public service. Because they are given broadcast spectrums that others, such as phone companies, must pay for, television stations receive a substantial public subsidy. They owe us. Unlike newspapers, television stations earn a great deal of money from political advertising. Just during the newscasts we analyzed, KRON, KGO and KPIX aired 189 political advertising “spots.””

If there is a first commandment in the codes of journalism ethics it's this: The greatest obligation of journalism is not to enrich shareholders, but to empower citizens. That is why journalism is the only constitutionally protected business. At no time does this duty bind a news outlet more than during the weeks before a major election. San Francisco's big three are guilty of a deliberate and serious violation of journalism ethics.

When news media distract us from our most important task as citizens — casting an informed vote — rather than excite, involve and inform us, they don't just fall short of the mark. They frustrate the primary purpose of journalism. They undermine what has always been democracy's most vulnerable strut — the limited time and interest citizens have in participating in their own government. [Smart Mobs]

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