Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Links in the Media Chain

leave a comment »

Image

“Here lies one whose name is writ in water”.  That’s on the headstone of the grave of poet John Keats.  In his time and ours, it means that there is no such thing as the irreplaceable person. I’m thinking about this as I remember all of the commentators, journalists and reporters who I used to see and hear and don’t anymore.  But also, how when I do hear or see them again, I realize how I, against my will, stopped thinking about them and how insidious that tendency to forget can be.

Most recently, I think of KOIN’s Chad Carter.  Mr. Carter was a morning host for KOIN’s morning news broadcast before he was let go just about 10 days ago.  In an interview with KOIN Meteorologist Bruce Sussman back in 2011, he said he grew up in Portland and interned at KTVZ in Bend, Oregon.  He lived in Texas before getting the chance to come back to Oregon in 2006.  He worked for local rival KPTV and was eventually hired at KOIN.  You just can’t think of anyone more home-towney than that.

But Mr. Carter is just the most recent example of people who were heavily in the limelight and suddenly one day, they were just gone.  Even his profile has been removed from KOIN, as if the station wants to erase any history of him ever being there.  That’s how institutions behave.  But we the public can be just as selective.

For instance, Mo Rocca is the new “it” for CBS This Morning.  He’s portrayed as a guy Friday who is all purpose funny and versatile.  Just what a news show wanting to have a good mix of professional and fun needs to stay on top of the ratings.  But a couple generation ago, it was George Plimpton.  And as funny as Mr. Rocca is, I can imagine that a couple of generations from now, people will be thinking of him in the same way I think of Rudolph Valentino.

I’m also thinking of people like Daniel Pinkwater.  Mr. Pinkwater is a children’s author who was a regular on National Public Radio for years with host Scott Simon before he suddenly wasn’t anymore. Horticulturalist Ketzel Levine, the so-called “Doyan of Dirt” by Mr. Simon; also inexplicably didn’t appear in her regular timeslot one Saturday morning several years ago.  Sports commentator Frank Deford, also on NPR, seemed to be seamlessly replaced by Mike Pesca and Stephen Fatus.  And financial expert Marshall Goodman was a fixture on the American Public Media Program “Marketplace” until he, along with previous host David Brown, vanished.  Often, there is no explanation as to why the people are gone, and if there isn’t, that’s probably a good indication that the parting wasn’t amicable.

Sometimes, these people refuse to be forgotten.  Ann Curry’s saga with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show is more of a management than journalism case study in behind the scenes politics at morning TV news broadcast shows.  But Ms. Curry has thrived despite the misery Mr. Lauer inflicted on her and his ham handed methods to try to clean up his own image in light of it.

And Barbara Walters, who will tomorrow announce her retirement from TV on “The View” did not let Harry Reasoner destroy her during ABC’s co-anchor experiment in the 70s.  Then ABC News’ Roone Arledge gets credit for seeing her real power was in reporting, not putting up with crap from someone who didn’t realize he was already behind the march of history.

But many excellent journalists and reporters have been scraped from the credits and scrapped because media companies are moneymakers and they are constantly shaking them to make mo’ money, mo’ money.  Consultants and focus groups drive budgets, whether they’re fueled by donations or stock prices.  And when colleagues get the ax, you are sad and at the same time, maybe guilty that you still have your job.  Maybe angry that the team has a hole in it (NCIS fans know this feeling well), but silent because you know where the power lies and it’s not in front of the camera.

That’s something else about not being indispensable.  It seems ones life goes smoother if one doesn’t see oneself as being more important than one ultimately is.  If Dante had an inferno for reporters, there would probably only be four levels rather than nine.  The top ring would be for innocents who were unjustly fired.  The next one would be for the incompetent.  The next would be for the stupid and the bottom ring closest to the fire would be for the pompous.  And because of this tragic flaw, the media gods hate them most.

What reporters and journalists do is important, but we can’t act like it is.  Because I think we are all just links in a chain from the past to the future and there is a lot of humility in that.  Sort of like lying on the ground at night and looking up at all of the stars.  It makes you feel kinda small, or at least it should in the healthy, non-sociopathic.  The people from the past likely couldn’t imagine us and the people in the future likely won’t remember us. So the work we do now has to be to make the best “us” we can.  To improve on those that came before us and give a good foundation for those who come after us but ego-wise, I don’t think any of it can be about us.

So getting back to Keats, it seems there is little to be done about a finicky public that cries for what it says it loves and misses until somebody dangles something shiny in front of its face.  In every one of these cases, only insiders know what really led to these arrivals and departures. But you can bet media managment have their talent and reporters on tight leashes to keep bad feelings from you letting their smiling faces into your living room.  Maybe Mr. Carter is a standard bearer for those who realize that all you can do is to do your best, keep calm and then, … move on


Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: