#423 FLASH: AP KILLS SELF
The Associated Press doesn't use the "Flash" anymore. When it did, the definition was "A story in three or fewer words that no one will misunderstand." Often, it took only two words. Here are some examples: "Japan Surrenders." "Kennedy Shot." "Nixon Resigns." Sometimes, it took only one word: "Liftoff!"
If you think journalism is in bad shape, you're righter than you know. What's killing it? Is it the 24 hour news cycle? The obsession with political minutia or celebrity gossip? Is it the right wing wacko blogs? The internet? The price of newsprint? Declining readership/listenership/viewership? Preoccupation with the bottom line instead of the customer? None of the above.
It's the AP's decision to abandon a 162 year tradition of neutrality and let reporters "call it like they see it." This is called "accountability journalism." Translation: hold public officials' feet to the fire, using as tongs your own viewpoint. Nothing wrong with the first thought. The second has no place in the AP, which is, after all, the spine, nervous system and circulation system of news, worldwide and without which no other news organization could survive.
Accountability Journalism? How about Opinion Journalism. We have plenty of that on TV and in the blogosphere. We don't need it from the Kings of Neutrality, or maybe, more accurately the former Kings of Neutrality. We do not need some yutz from the AP telling us how the government screwed up the economy, Iraq and Katrina relief. We have radio talkshows for that. We need to be presented with the facts and given the time and space to make up our own minds.
The so-called Accountability to which the AP says it wants to hold public officials is fine. Who will hold the reporters and editors there accountable. How will we know we're getting a complete picture.
And what will come next? Now that every piece of news -- other than cats stranded in trees and drunks getting traffic citations while driving their riding lawnmowers through traffic -- is an opinion piece?
How do we know that a piece on, say, cancer research, isn't written by the public relations office of a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Or even worse, from a peddler of pyramid scheme multivitamins and homeopathic potions?
How do we know that a piece on nuclear waste disposal isn't written by the public relations office of a nuclear fuel maker?
How do we trust their reporting on global warming or Wall Street or even Britney Spears?
This is, at best, an invitation to sloppiness, and an end to the single most important component of neutral reporting: leg work.
(Disclaimer: your correspondent served as a writer and editor on the Associated Press National Broadcast Desk from 1971 to 1975.)
--Look at the label on your small serving potato chip. You may think they've reduced the fat. But no, they've changed the portion size so you get 1.5 servings, not just one.
--Here's an investment tip. Buy uninhabitable sand dunes in Arizona or Florida or Nevada. Iraq war reenactments will soon be all the rage and property values will skyrocket.
--Beer woes got you down? Now that both Bud and Miller are in foreign hands you don't know what to drink? There's plenty of the stuff still made in USA, but you have to look.
I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.(R)