Broadcasters should stick to news and not storytelling

Phoenix Webb

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The public looks to journalists to report the news. Journalists, especially news broadcasters, are taken seriously. What is reported is accepted as truth and when a journalist is discovered to have created their own truth it creates bad press and distrust among viewers.

America watched Brian Williams on NBC for over 20 years until this month when a story was published in Stars and Stripes newspaper.

According to cbsnews.com, Williams reported in 2003 that he was on a reporting trip in Iraq and was in one of a group of helicopters and that the one in front of his was fired at. In 2008 Williams wrote in his blog that his helicopter was fired at and the helicopter in front of his was hit. Finally, in 2013 Williams was on the Late Show with Dave Letterman and told Letterman that the helicopter he was in got hit as well as the one in front of his.

The Stars and Stripes published an article Feb. 9 written by Travis J. Tritten that called Williams out for lying about his experience in Iraq during a reporting trip in 2003.

Understandably, active military personnel and veterans are angry about this. Being fired at is traumatic and to live through it is something of a miracle. It cannot be taken lightly, it should not be fabricated under any circumstance and certainly not by a journalist.

News broadcasters used to report the news matter-of-factly — without emotion and without personal anecdotes. Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw were broadcast news anchors I watched religiously. They reported the facts as they were given. They were professional, reliable and reassuring as deliverers of factual news.

What Williams did may be part of a trend that has developed in media journalism. Chris Chan is an adjunct instructor of media law at San Diego City College.

“News broadcasters are increasingly asked to bring their own personality and stories to the table. News organizations sometimes use that to connect people in the audience to their on-air news personality,” Chan said via email. “To a certain extent, connecting with the audience as a broadcaster, as well as a parent or a football fan or an animal lover allows people to communicate news and information more effectively. The broadcaster may have insight into a situation that others don’t.”

“Personal stories can be great because they provide more information and hopefully a deeper understanding of a subject matter whether it’s information and feelings. But rules of truth and accuracy still apply in those stories, especially when you’re a journalist,” Chan was quick to point out.”

We don’t need to connect or know who is reporting news, or, for that matter, who the people are who provide our media entertainment. We need the news: factual, unemotional, without drama and without personality.

We, the American public, deserve to have news broadcast and printed with honesty and nothing else.