McAdams On: Journalistic Integrity
5/21/2010 1:57:21 PM
There was a bit of a flap in the Los Angeles
broadcast news community this week culminating with an executive exit. It seems
this executive oversaw a purported news segment depicting a “Real Housewife of
Orange County” as a KNBC reporter. I didn’t see the segment. James Rainey of
the Los Angeles Times did. It turns
out Mrs. Vicki Gunvalson of Orange County housewifage was dispatched to a
clothing boutique to “interview” folks about new federal credit card rules. It
turns out that Mrs. Vicki interviewed her friends.
The exiting executive was Steve Lange, vice president of content for KNBC. His
departure coincided with a statement Rainey received from KNBC that Mrs. Vicki’s
segment had not lived up to its journalistic standards. Lange’s departure and
the statement were merely coincidental, said the organization predicated on
To be fair, KNBC is not alone in obfuscating its own foibles. News
organizations of all sizes are among the least transparent businesses. The
Times is a newspaper owned by a
corporation bankrupted in a buyout designed to avoid taxes.
News organizations rarely investigate one another with considerable steam
because they’re all owned by the same hedge fund, with money from everyone’s
401(k). Thus, in that “Lion King” hakuna-matada kind of way, everything is one
big circle of something.
On KNBC’s Web site this morning, celebrity gossip stories outnumber local news
items. Alongside the never-ending L.A. foreclosure story is one about Tiger
Woods’ mistresses (showing cleavage), Rihanna’s get-ups (showing cleavage), and
who will replace Megan Fox in “Transformers” (showing same). The
Los Angeles Times is leading with the
addition of 14,200 jobs in California, followed by the Senate vote on finance
reform and the seismographic market indices.
Dollars to donuts, Rihanna’s barely concealed breasts get KNBC more hits than
“Markets remain volatile a day after steep decline” generates for the
It’s easy to take shots at KNBC for running the Mrs. Vicki segment as a news piece,
though the station may have done the industry a service by redefining a line.
“News” has been devolving into infotainment for two decades. What’s newsworthy
in this case is the six people who may have noticed that Mrs. Vicki was no
The fact that news doesn’t pay is merely a free market phenomenon. Journalistic
integrity does not add to the bottom line, or at least it’s perceived not to do
so. Local news franchises are imploding across the country. They quite
literally have to try something new, even though shoving a mic into the hand of
a celebimbo isn’t exactly innovative. If numbers had flown for that segment,
Mr. Lange might very well be ordering a news piece on a new reality series set
in the KNBC newsroom featuring real spoiled brats from Beverly Hills as
There are certainly more egregious violations of news ethics than the Mrs.
Vicki report. There will certainly be more. The imperative is not whether these
things will occur, it’s if anyone will care.